Solidarity, Fragmentation, & Welfare

by contributing editor Daniel London

The capacity to live with difference is, in my view, the coming question of the twenty-first century. – Stuart Hall

The problem of solidarity is shaping up to be the problem of the 21st century. – David Hollinger

Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. inaugurated the field of American urban history in 1940 with a sweeping declaration that most of what was most progressive about America originated in cities. This was a result, he believed, of the circumscribed conditions within cities which “forced attention to matters of common concern which could not be ignored even by a people individualistically inclined”. This forcing of attention, in turn, brought with it a “necessary concern with the general welfare” that “nourished a sense of social responsibility”, manifested in collective voluntary action and, ultimately, in the welfare state.

While this interpretation still finds its defenders 60 years later by some unreconstructed social democrats, more specialized scholars of the American welfare state have not echoed it, to put it lightly. Rather than the result of a bottom-up solidaristic consensus or pragmatically pluralist negotiations, the welfare state as described in the work of such luminaries as Michael Katz and Linda Gordon represents the triumph of particular and privileged social groups (white men, mostly), the operations of which were lodged in bureaucracies disconnected from the people they were meant to serve. There is no talk of ‘public good’ in these works, at least with a straight face; rather, the American welfare state is characterized by its uneven and private-sector oriented nature, and its cities permanently characterized by fragmentation and segregation.

Bender2011.JPG

Historian Thomas Bender

Both sets of interpretations, apparently irreconcilable, nonetheless rest on a similar set of over-drawn binaries between ‘public’ and ‘private’ as related to normative concepts (the public versus the private good), social groupings (civil society versus the state) and social provision (public sector versus the private sector). Here I would argue for a more open-ended, nuanced, and empirical research agenda as to the relations within and across these pairings, oriented around the concept of “public culture” articulated by Thomas Bender.

The welfare state was, for postwar social theorist and economist T.H. Marshall, the quintessential public good – an enrichment of the “universal status of citizenship” that both emerged from and ensured a “common culture and common experience” among the populace. Many urban historians sympathetic to this interpretation emphasize moments (and spaces) of communication and cooperation between social groups, tracking the rise of a progressive and redistributive Gemeinschaft that transcended, if not replaced, a more ethnos-oriented Gesellschaft.

Other historical works, however, argue that the idea of a “public good” was not only debilitating toward efforts at redistribution (usually via hegemonic interpretations), but that it overshadowed injustices oriented around what Nancy Fraser calls issues of recognition wherein gender and racial differences need to be stressed. Such battles over representation and multiculturalism, of course, are seen by social democrats as displacing attention from mal-distribution by failing to address its real causes, and undermining the solidarity that redistributive campaigns appear to require.

We need to move away from such zero-sum interpretations, and provide more historical accounts of how understandings of the public good were developed, articulated, and gained ideological and political purchase within and across different social groupings. To what extent do policies recognizing social differences (including those of class, race, and gender) inhibit trust, and empathy and cooperation between groups – and vice-versa? When, precisely, do languages and practices around solidarity – both in terms of cultural identifications and more abstract “interests” – weaken or strengthen the respective influence of different social institutions (civil society/state) and sectors (market/state) vis-à-vis one another?

T.H. Marshall also posited a unidirectional link between active “social responsibility” by citizens on the ground and the formations and operations of the Welfare State. Indeed, Marshall believed that at a certain point civil-society institutions such as unions would be unnecessary and distracting: it would be the State that ensured the common good free of any particularizing institutions. Conversely, Jürgen Habermas, believed that the welfare state actually destroyed the “public sphere” by making civil society seemingly unnecessary, thereby reducing citizens to State clients and eroding the zones of privacy – Nancy Fraser calls them “ ‘counter-publics’” – in which citizens can gain clearer and more participatory understanding of their interests.

More empirical work is needed investigating precisely when state organizations (and at what scale) are actually more open to inclusive and open participation than voluntary organizations. A more vexed problem, however, is examining degrees of overlap and connection between civil society organizations, communities, and state organizations. To what extent have diverse publics contributed to more general formation of public opinion on a scale sufficient to influence the state and other social institutions? How have transformations in the ownership and usage of communication – and the physical spaces where inter-group communication literally takes place – influenced their capacities to do so? How have ideas and policies around the ‘public value’ of redistribution and recognition been influenced by changing connections between, and degree of democracy within, these institutions? Finally, how have languages and practices around solidarity and conflict discussed earlier influenced participation within and across civil society and the state?

Finally, we must address the question of policies themselves. The entire point of Welfare, for Schlesinger and Marshall, was to ensure a certain equality of condition and opportunity for individuals that alternative mechanisms – the family, volunteer organizations, and especially the market – could not provide. America represents a “laggard” Welfare state, in the eyes of many historians, to the extent that these purportedly “private” institutions were responsible for sectors of social reproduction. Not only were such institutions insufficient in dealing with major economic crises, but they also discriminated on the basis of the recipients’ status or income in ways that universal, tax-financed policies (across class lines) do not. Other New Left and conservative critics argue that the State, by monopolizing social provision, erodes horizontal solidaristic ties within communities and civil society.

Recent scholarship into comparative welfare state formation, however, has overturned traditional understanding of the American State and welfare policy more generally. Most importantly for the purpose of this essay, they have demonstrated ‘public welfare’ activity always consists of a mixture of institutional players – many of them non-state – and policies at any given time. Under these conditions, how do individuals navigate changing configurations of welfare providers? How do differences in their funding structure (tax financed versus contributory), accessibility (means tested versus universal), and operation (via parochial organizations, civil-society, ‘community’ organizations, and so forth) both reflect and affect patterns of solidarity within and between groups?

51O7y451EUL.jpgAs should be clear from this résumé, any simple characterization of the welfare state as either the embodiment or antithesis of solidarity rests on shaky foundations. The easy, unidirectional link between the “public” good”, the “public” sector, and “public” policies – as ultimately manifesting in the universal welfare state – does not seem born out by the evidence. However, both adherents of this position and its die-hard critics tended to state their cases in overly binary terms. This is partly an understandable reaction to the neoliberal valorization of the private sector since the 1970s. I also believe it stems, however, from the fact that so many historians tend to locate their areas of inquiry outside the realm of policy formation – preventing us from seeing in greater detail the actual inputs and effects of welfare policies on ideas, practices, and institutions as relating to solidarity.

Toward this end, I propose a research program scaffolded around the transformation and consequences of welfare policies (with “welfare” interpreted loosely), but whose locus of inquiry is what Thomas Bender calls the  making of public culture. Public culture encompasses the sites and processes whereby social groups interact and contest for the power to define legitimate social meanings – in my own work, around the meanings of “public” and “private” – for the polity.   This is not consensus or pluralist history, insofar as it critically examines how and why some groups and identities are not represented in these contests. It is, however, unapologetically built around interaction. Not as a way of avoiding questions of power and domination, but of more fully understanding and interrogating it: in Julian Zelizer’s words “how it was structured and changed, where it was contested what its impact was, and what assumptions shaped the discourse that framed it.” To this end, highlighting brief moments of social democratic deliberations or inter-group interactions is not enough: our study must also encompass the translation of (some) of these meanings into actual policies, along with their effects. If this entails a closer examination of institutional formations and interactions that many cultural historians have become accustomed to, so much the better.

What does all of this, finally, have to do with the city? We cannot naively assume that urban areas are, either historically or theoretically, the most generative space for social politics. However, they remain unparalleled as a site for investigating and comparing interactions at their most complex, heterogeneous, and dense. And in our investigations, we will need to deploy the methodologies of intellectual history in order to fully understand the contexts and complexes around the meaning of those keywords – public, private, solidarity, fragmentation – that are all-too-often unreflexively deployed by well-meaning commentators and chroniclers alike.

What We’re Reading, July 16th-22nd

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.

Madeline:

Jonathan Blitzer, “A Tale of Racial Passing and the U.S.-Mexico Border” (New Yorker)

Ecclesiastical History Society virtual exhibition, “Translating Christianity

David Giffels, “Stalking the American Dream in Cleveland’s Hingetown” (Belt Magazine)

Rebecca Mead, “Eat, Pray, Latin” (New Yorker)

Kristin Van Tassel, “Voyeur, Collector, Amateur Sleuth” (LARB)

John:

Modernist masterpieces in unlikely Asmara” (Economist)

François Aubel, « Le Corbusier classé à l’Unesco : ses oeuvres majeures en France » (Le Figaro)

Cinzia dal Maso, “Modernità del Mediterraneo” (Il Sole 24 Ore)

Timothy Nunan, “Thicker Than Water: Revisiting Global Connections on the Banks of the Suez Canal with Valeska Huber” (Toynbee Prize Foundation)

Neville Morley, “Why Thucydides?” (Eidolon)

Catharine R. Stimpson, “The Nomadic Humanities” (Los Angeles Review of Books)

Maria Popova, “Lying in Politics: Hannah Arendt on Deception, Self-Deception, and the Psychology of Defactualization” (Brain Pickings)

Guglielmo Weber, Giorgio Brunello, and Christoph Weiss, “The link between the number of books in your childhood home and your earnings” (World Economic Forum)

Ben Aldes Wurgaft, “Thinking, Public and Private: Intellectuals in the Time of the Public” (Los Angeles Review of Books)

And finally, a transcription by Taos Aït Si Slimane of « Jean-Pierre Vernant : L’Homme grec » first broadcast on France Culture, 14 January 2007 (Fabrique de sens)

Emily:

E.M. Forster, “What I Believe” in Two Cheers for Democracy (Abinger, 1951)

Bernard Semmel, Imperialism and Social Reform: English Social-Imperial Thought, 1895-1914 (Harvard University Press, 1960)

Freddy Foks, The rise and fall of Oliver Letwin: a private life of public power (openDemocracy)

Martin Loughlin, The End of Avoidance: Britain’s Constitutional Crisis (LRB)

Analysis: A Subversive History of School Reform (BBC Radio 4)

Chuck Mertz interviews Nicole Longpré, A post-Brexit guide to the mainstreaming of Britain’s far-right (This Is Hell!, WNUR Chicago)

Will Jennings and Gerry Stoker, Anti-politics after the referendum: the genie is out of the bottle (LSE British Politics and Policy blog)

Zadie Smith, Fences: A Brexit Diary (NYRB)

Mary Beard, The slipperiness of democracy (A Don’s Life)

Molly Fischer, Think Gender is Performance? You Have Judith Butler to Thank for That (NY Mag)

Erin:

Zadie Smith, “Fences: A Brexit Diary” (NYRB)

Nathan H. Dize “Mapping Downtown Asheville Through Protest: Black Lives Matter and Public Spaces” (African American Intellectual History Society Blog)

Dan Cohen “What’s the Matter with EBooks: An Update” (Dan Cohen, Executive Director of the DPLA, maintains his own blog at dancohen.org)

Georgianna Ziegler, “The Earliest Recorded Shakespeare in America?” (The Collation)

David King Dunaway, Huxley in Hollywood (Harper & Rowe, 1989)

Brian Rizzo, “A Lexow Effect? Daniel Czitrom’s New York Exposed (Gotham: A Blog for Scholars of New York City History)

Lastly, I posted something new this week on the Gotham Center’s excellent blog for New York City History: “What Did New Yorkers Read in the Gilded Age? Looking at the Armstrong Records” (Gotham)

Daniel:

Take our Emancipatory Psychoanalysis Test” (Verso Books)

Randall Collins, “Can the War Between Cops and Blacks be De-Escalated?” (The Sociological Eye)

Mike Konczal, “The Forgotten State” (Boston Review)

Lee Konstantinou, “The Hangman of Critique” (LARB)

Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft, “Thinking, Public and Private: Intellectuals in the Time of the Public” (LARB)

Brooke:

Issue 66” (Knygotyra)

Zadie Smith, “Fences: A Brexit Diary” (NYRB)

Jake:

Rachel Aviv “The Philosopher of Feelings” (The New Yorker)

Lucas Klein, “Tribunals of Erudition and Taste: or, Why Translations of Premodern Chinese Poetry Are Having a Moment Right Now” (LARB)

Lee Konstantiou “The Hangman of Critique” (LARB)

Laura Saetveit Miles, “Stephen Greenblatt’s ‘The Swerve’ Racked Up Prizes – And Completely Misled You about the Middle Ages” (Vox)

Cord Whitaker, “Pale Like Me: Resistance, Assimilation, and ‘Pale Faces’ Sixteen Years On” (In the Middle)

Claude Eatherly, the Bomb, and the Atomic Age

by contributing editor Carolyn Taratko

In late May, President Obama laid a wreath at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, making him the first sitting U.S. President to visit the city that was the target of the first atomic bomb on August 6th 1945. He called for the pursuit of “a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.” The mere suggestion of the President’s visit proved incendiary to many Americans, who argued that it would be seen as an apology for acts that official consensus holds ended the war and saved hundreds of thousands of lives in the process. Obama made no such apology, though. After expressing generalized remorse at the devastation, he used the occasion to call for non-proliferation, albeit on a timescale outside of his lifetime. It was a poignant moment of remembrance, but then there were other pressing issues to attend to. The survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are, after all, the reminders of the immediate dangers of these weapons. At home, in the US, who feels this fear acutely and every day?

Eatherly

Major Claude Eatherly, 1966 (Waco Tribune)

On June 3rd, 1959, an Austrian philosopher addressed a letter to a former US Air Force pilot from Texas. The Austrian, Günther Anders, initiated this correspondence after learning through the media that the American, Claude Eatherly, had once again been committed to the psychiatric ward of the V.A. Hospital in Waco. Eatherly had flown the mission to scout the weather above Japan before giving the ‘ok’ to drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima. After returning to civilian life, he was wracked by guilt over the consequences of his mission. Multiple suicide attempts and petty crimes ensued over the years that followed. Each time he was acquitted on psychiatric grounds. These offences and his outspoken insistence on his own guilt in partaking in the bombing mission left the Air Force and V.A. administration unsettled. Unwilling to risk another incident and wary of Eatherly’s growing media presence, he was to remain under medical supervision in the Waco hospital, at first voluntarily and then against his will. The Anders-Eatherly correspondence bears witness to this difficult time for the man who wanted to draw attention to the perils of nuclear warfare by making himself the first example.

It also bears witness to an attempt between two men of vastly different backgrounds to grapple with moral questions haunting the postwar world. In Anders’ first letter, he outlines his philosophical schema in which he sees Eatherly as an improbable hero. Anders dismissed the claims of Eatherly’s psychiatric disturbance and instead praised his vigorous moral health. He described the way that humans can become “guiltlessly guilty” as a result of the vast and complicated technology that humans have created (Letter 1). This condition is unprecedented; the imaginations of our forbearers outpaced their ability to act, whereas in modern times— which he alternately calls the “Atomic Age” and the “Age of the Apparatus”—the opposite proves true. Technology is increasingly complicated, danger lurks at a new scale, and miscalculation threatens the existence of humans at a planetary level. This new epoch distinguishes itself from previous ones in that it is the first time that “the capacity of man’s imagination cannot compete with that of our praxis. As a matter of fact, our imagination is unable to grasp the effect of that which we are producing” (Anders, Commandments in the Atomic Age). For Anders, this new age called for, above all else, the widening of man’s moral fantasy to encompass his new technological aptitude and both its intended and unintended effects. Eatherly had grasped this and the two men discussed the implications of this new moral burden in their letters over the course of two years.

Straight flush

Eatherly’s plane, the Straight Flush

The epistolary form is ideally suited for viewing the ethical challenges of nuclear proliferation. The letters are at once intimately private and also global in their concerns. Through them, Anders outlines his view of the problem of increased specialization and expertise, which cultivates a feeling of helplessness among the lay population. His warning that nuclear proliferation should not be left to the military and politicians because of its effects on mankind serve to further justify his activism on Eatherly’s behalf. Questions of morality recognize no neat divisions, and concern for others must lie at the heart of an ethical project (a view later elaborated by Philip Kitcher, who elsewhere takes up the subject of the compatibility between increasingly complex science and democratic values). The degree of intimacy which develops between Eatherly and Anders, who never met in person, is striking. United not only by their concern over nuclear proliferation, but out of concern for humanity and its many faces, Eatherly quickly accepts Anders as a trusted friend and advocate. Anders comes across a bit pedantic at times, and Eatherly naïve and rendered helpless by his situation. In spite of this, Anders’ treats Eatherly with respect. With his mental health called into question repeatedly, Anders shows a willingness to pull out all stops to defend the freedom and sanity of his interlocutor.

The letters center upon Eatherly’s personal drama, but events out in the world make their mission more pressing. The capture of Adolf Eichmann in May of 1960 and his subsequent trial works its way into the letters. Although Anders despairs at this point, having not heard from Eatherly in five months, he writes to deliver the news of his capture and delineates how Eatherly is the “antipode of Eichmann” (Letter 65). While Eichmann defended his complicity in the planning and execution of genocide by calling himself a “cog in the machine,” a man who lacked agency, and therefore culpability, in an expansive system, Eatherly rejected this excuse in his own situation.

Having secured Eatherly’s permission, Anders published their exchanges (with commentary, and some redaction) in 1961 in Germany, then one year later in the US in an attempt to gain recognition for Eatherly, who was still fighting the V.A. for his freedom, and for the cause of proliferation. The publication aligned with Anders’ twin convictions: that Eatherly’s “problem” was not a private mental health issue, and that nuclear proliferation was not only for a cadre of experts, but touched every citizen. Turning their letters out into the reading public, Anders assumed a position at the center of the anti-nuclear movement of the 1960s. Despite the urgency with which Eatherly saw the need to halt nuclear proliferation, both his story and the issue of proliferation itself have largely faded from public discourse. And, despite growing resistance to the idea of nuclear weaponry, the majority of Americans still believes the dropping the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified, and that it spared American soldiers. Even beyond the exigencies of wartime, Eatherly was rejected as the conscience of a generation. Nuclear weapon states and their stockpiles survive, insulated from serious criticism by the rhetoric of security and national prestige. All the same, the public cannot, and should not refrain from asking the question of whether these weapons serve as a means of self-regulation or rather, to paraphrase the warning of former US Secretary of Defense, an invitation for an inevitable catastrophe.

What We’re Reading, July 9th-15th

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.

John:

Helen Andrews, “The New Ruling Class” (The Hedgehog Review)

Adèle Cassigneul, « Le Paris des barricades » (La Vie des idées)

Eberhard Falcke, »Ein aufwühlendes Zeitzeugnis« (Deutschlandfunk)

Chris Gratien and Susanna Ferguson, “Marginalized Women in Khedival Egypt: An Interview with Liat Kozma” (Ottoman History Podcast)

Shira Kohn interviews Daniel Jutte on his new book The Age of Secrecy: Jews, Christians, and the Economy of Secrets, 1400-1800 (Yale University Press, 2016; New Books in History)

Mikey McGovern interviews Ronald R. Kline on his new book The Cybernetics Moment, Or Why We Call Our Age the Information Age (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2015; New Books in History)

Timothy Nunan, “The Afghan Story in the History of Indian Geopolitics” (The Wire)

Alessandro Pagnini, “La rivoluzione di Koyré” (Il Sole 24 Ore)

Benoît Peeters, « Redécouvrir Paul Valéry » (Les Lettres françaises)

Uwe Justus Wenzel, »Ein Katholik im reformierten Gotteshaus« (NZZ)

And finally, Michael Winock on « L’état du monde en 1936 » (lecture at the Forum des Images, Paris on May 19, 2016; via Daily Motion)

Emily:

Adam Kotsko, Social Media as Liturgy (An und für sich)

Linda Colley, It is easy to despair of our leaders, but Brexit has exposed Britain’s rotten core (Guardian)

I wrote something on my personal blog about the uses of history for political ends.

Ariel Sabar, The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife (Atlantic)

Lisl Walsh, Giving it up in the Classroom: Feminist Classics and the Burden of Authority (Eidolon)

Rosemary Hill, Do put down that revolver: English Country Houses (LRB)

Can someone else please watch The Living and the Dead (BBC) so that I can talk about it with them?

Brooke:

Google Deletes Dennis Cooper’s Blog, Erasing Years of Artistic Output” (Art Forum)

Shannon Cain, “I Squatted James Baldwin’s House In Order to Save It” (LitHub)

Robinson Meyer, “The Library of Congress Gets a History-Making New Leader” (The Atlantic)

Saretta Morgan, “Visiting the Audre Lorde Archives in Berlin” (The Guardian)

Carolyn:

Andrew Higgins, “Russia Looks to Populate Its Far East. Wimps Need Not Apply” (NYT)

Tim Parks, “Between the Guelphs and Ghibellines” (LRB)

Edward Short, “Heavens on Earth” (The Weekly Standard)

Erin:

Emma Thatcher, Evicting the Feminist Library Reminds Women of What We Have to Lose (The Guardian)

Jerry Brown, A Stark Nuclear Warning (NYRB)

Stephen Tabor, Better than Bacon (Verso, the Huntington Library Blog)

George Saunders, Who Are All These Trump Supporters? (New Yorker)

Dustin Illingworth, An Incomplete Eloquence (LARB)

Images of history

by John Raimo

As often as historians and art historians talk past one another, they also come together before common problems, questions, and sources. Both groups recognize the sheer power of images. Such a moment has reappeared in intellectual history. The recent one hundred and fiftieth celebrations of Aby Warburg’s birth underscored how widely Warburg’s terminology could stretch between art and cultural history. Historians such as Carlo Ginzburg and Patrick Boucheron take iconography as a starting point for deeper and deeper reconstructions of political and intellectual milieus. The work of art historians such as Georges Did-Huberman and Giovanni Careri follow similar patterns shuttling between contextual and formal considerations. Anthropologists too have not been far behind, finding in images the source for new methodologies across disciplines dealing with ideas both in and of history. And many museum curators do not shy away from presenting both ethical and historiographical challenges to the public in precisely this tenor, perhaps most spectacularly in the recent Conflict, Time, Photography exhibit at the Tate Modern.

jahanstatue-930x956.jpg

Guerre 1939-1945. Occupation. Destruction de statues pour récupérer les métaux. La statue du marquis de Condorcet, homme politique français, par Jacques Perrin (1847-1915). Paris, 1941. JAH-REP-34-8

Four ongoing or recent exhibits in Paris also directly engage with the stakes that images—and specifically photography—hold for intellectual history today. Exhibitions dedicated to Seydou Keïta (1921-2001) at the Grand Palais, the photographers of France’s Front populaire (1936-1938) at the Hôtel de Ville, Lore Krüger (1914-2009) at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme, and Josef Sudek (1896-1976) at the Jeu de Paume have this much in common: their images possess immediate documentary and historical charges, intervening histories challenge any recovery of the same, and the images themselves pose different meanings—political and otherwise—in our own time. How does one reconcile these knotty realities to one another, let alone relate them to questions of sheer aesthetic value, enduring or otherwise? Perhaps counter-intuitively, the question touches at once upon the artists themselves as much as upon each show’s respective curators. Together, they answer for the most part magnificently just how ideas and patterns of thinking flow into and out from photographs.

seydou-keita-vignette-576x576

Seydou Keïta, Untitled (1956-1957)

Perhaps no exhibit succeeds so brilliantly as that dedicated to the Malinese photographer Keïta. Self-taught and a portraitist by trade in Bamako, Keïta carefully arranges various customers against complex cloth backdrops in plain-light settings. Several layers of history collide in what only first appear as beautiful, if straightforward portraits. Keïta’s private practice runs from 1948 to 1962, shortly after Mali achieves independence from the French colonial empire. His customers find themselves at a crossroads: both women and men dress in traditional clothing as often as in European or American fashions, often modeling themselves upon the figures of the latest films and popular magazines. A watch ostentatiously displayed, a certain hairstyle, new western clothing, or certain postures together subtly betray consciousness of new cultural models, economic statuses, and social change ranged against Keïta’s brilliantly-patterned backgrounds. Both the circumstances of the photography session and the material object—the photo itself, as the exhibit makes clear—are intended to circulate by word of mouth and hand to hand. Yet an alchemical change also occurs. Keïta’s subjects prove subjects in every sense of the term; their glances say as much, even as they slowly come to look out upon a new country.

At the same time, a personal iconography emerges across the œuvre. Keïta’s workshop feature props (pens, glasses, flowers, and so on) that appear regularly throughout the portraits. An iconographic vocabulary similarly developed in the photographer’s carefully-choreographed poses. An uneasy sort of modernity can be teased out in the tension between these hugely personable figures, their clothing and possessions, and those objects and gestures which both they and Keïta saw fit to add to the compositions.

The art proves doubly-reflexive, looking inwards to the person and to life in Bamako as much as outwards to a rapidly changing Africa and globalization. Keïta’s own touch emerges in the gap. He arranges women into odalisque reclinings, organizes groups of civil servants into full profile portraits, and captures others at their ease wearing traditional clothing. The hindsight of a retrospective allows us to see how closely Keïta simultaneously engages European art history, the stock imagery of popular culture, and a Malinese society in transition throughout his career. The complex of ideas here reveal the subject much as the same ideas flow from the same person, the photographer himself, and finally the image in its own right.

The Front populaire exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville attains a similar achievement, albeit on a different scale. The show follows upon a burst of renewed popular and academic interest in Léon Blum’s government and the period immediately preceding WWII. What emerges in the photos of such luminaries as Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Chim (David Seymour), Robert Doisneau, and Willy Ronis among other photojournalists is little less than a unified, if contested image of a society rapidly refiguring itself. Here technology proves the first hero. The portability of cameras, wide lens and higher resolution photography, and the ability to turn shots into next day’s paper gave birth to a new documentary language. Close-ups from within a crowd, odd angles, photos taken from rooftops hold their own with group portraits of politicians at ease in saloon lounges or mid-speech before thousands.

Fred Stein.jpg

Bastille Day demonstrations, Vincennes 1935 (©FredStein.com)

The great range or even discrepancy of Capa and company’s interests and work suggest a whole society falling at once under the same photographic lens, even as history jostles against advertisements and film stars in the daily papers. The photos appear on equal terms. Even publicity in the sense of public relations proves nascent, if not off balance. Airs of improvisation and the same-old business surround political figures like Blum and his contemporaries. Striking workers and public amusements achieve a glamour just as photographers accord the homeless and unemployed a new dignity. And slowly certain dramatic poses and compositions take on a new regularity across the exhibit. The vocabulary hardens and situations reprise themselves. New understandings of personal and sexual relationships, masculinity and femininity, and modernity itself track across the years. (One gentle criticism should be added here: it would have done well to have included far more female photographers.) What happens, as Michel Winock and others argue, is that French society comes to understand itself in images just as photographers came to learn their full historical potential—‘History’ with a capital ‘H.’

The German photographer Lore Krüger’s work confronts many of the same issues, if more obliquely. Her career and biography stagger the mind. Krüger studies photography with Florence Henri and other Bauhaus-trained photographers while attending lectures with László Rádványi in 1930s Paris, all the while absorbing the lessons of interwar avant-garde photographers (and living in the same house as Arthur Koestler and Walter Benjamin). An exile from Nazi Germany, Krüger passes through Majorca—witnessing Franco’s troops massacre Republican forces in 1936—and mainland Spain at the height of its Civil War before making her way to New York, where she and her husband work for the exile community’s German-language press. Giving up photography after the war, Krüger eventually returns to a quiet life as a translator and author in Eastern Germany before dying in 2009.

lore-kruger-une-photographe-en-exil-1934-1944,M321314

Lore Krüger, “Jeune Gitan, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer” (1936; © Estate of Lore Krüger)

The exhibits’ curators posthumously assemble what remained of Krüger’s photography. In their composition, lighting, and psychological reach, her work achieves a uniform excellence across still lives, landscapes, portraits of friends, and above all in her studies of interwar gypsies. The balance between all her influences is remarkable, not least as Krüger too follows in the wake of glossy magazines and photojournalism. Yet a dichotomy of sorts also arises. For every ‘political’ image or photograph taken on the street, Krüger veers to high avant-garde experimentation elsewhere. These activities both overlap and command longer periods in her work, persisting until the end of Krüger’s artistic career. Something new emerges at the same time: what might be called the private lives of an avant-garde and an artist in wartime apart from any political engagement. The exhibit’s repeated argument that Krüger’s œuvre forms a consistent whole here seems to miss a much more interesting set of questions. How do we reconstruct private intellectual life, the persistence of international movements once contacts have been severed, and the experience of artistic experimentation continued under the hardest conditions?

ok-rose

Josef Sudek, “The Last Rose” (1956, Musée des Beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. 2010 © Estate of Josef Sudek)

All the same issues confront any attempt to wrangle the great, protean Czech photographer Josef Sudek into a coherent retrospective. The portraitist, the architecture and the landscape photographer, the artist of still lives, and the commercial man all jostle against one another over a career spanning the complicated histories of interwar and then communist-era Czechoslovakia. To reduce Sudek’s photography to any political (or apolitical) stance or simpler historical context would be a mistake on the same order of privileging one genre above the others. Yet the Jeu de Paume’s curators attempt something like this. Moving backwards from the interior studies, they claim a certain artistic unity which in turn drives the late Sudek into a sort of inner exile. An impression grows of intervening notions organizing a narrative: the late Romantic artist gradually finds himself confined to a window by the history beyond it, something like an uncritical reprise of Günter Gaus’s old notion of East Germany as a ‘niche society.’ This is not to say that the merits of Sudek’s work do not shine through the exhibit, or that the curators entirely mute his own thinking. The problem is rather that later ideas and contexts—historical or otherwise—drown out the images. As confidently as Keïta’s or as loudly as the Front populaire journalists’ pictures speak to audiences today, others such as Krüger’s and Sudek’s talk to historians, art historians, and all of us in much quieter tones.

Exhibitions reviewed: “Seydou Keïta,” Grand Palais (31 March to 11 July, 2016); “Exposition 1936 : le Front populaire en photographie,” Hôtel de Ville de Paris (19 May to 23 July, 2016); “Lore Krüger : une photographe en exil, 1934-1944,” Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme (30 March to 17 July, 2016); Josef Sudek : Le monde à ma fenêtre,” Jeu de Paume (7 June to 25 September, 2016).

What We’re Reading: July 2nd-8th

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.

Madeline:

Henrik Bering, “The master propagandist” (New Criterion)

Alex Burghart, “Women and the Somme” (TLS Blog)

Cecilia D’Anastasio, “VR Has Its Roots in Ancient Rome” (Kotaku)

Tom Holland, “Battle Royal” (TLS)

John:

Evgeny Buntman (Sean Guillory, trans.), “Stalin’s orders, the Politburo’s decisions, and the Social Revolutionaries” (Meduza)

Nicolas Duvoux, « La possibilité des révolutions : Entretien avec Quentin Deluermoz et Laurent Jeanpierre » (La vie des idées)

William Eamon, “Six centuries of secularism” (Aeon)

Martin Ebel, »Studie über den Alltag unserer Demokratie« (Deutschlandrundfunk)

John Palatella (trans. Bela Shayevich), “Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices” (The Nation)

Tim Parks, “Between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines” (TLS)

Niccolò Scaffai, “Traduzioni d’autore” (Le parole e le cose)

Michele Spanò and Massimo Vallerani, “Come se. Yan Thomas e le politiche della finzione giuridica” (Le parole e le cose)

Dieter Thomä, »Soziologie mit der Stimmgabel« (Die Zeit)

Lorenzo Tomasin, “La dama col Canzoniere” (Il Sole 24 Ore)

And finally, in honor of Yves Bonnefoy (1923-2016), a recording of the poet reading « Les Planches courbes » (courtesy of Farrar, Straus & Giroux; YouTube)

Emily:

Where Are We Now?: LRB contributors on Brexit (LRB)
Jeremy Harding, Short Cuts, on Brexit (LRB)
Nicole Longpré, How the British Far Right Went Mainstream (Dissent)

Alison Flood, Geoffrey Hill, ‘one of the greatest English poets’, dies aged 84 (Guardian)

Christopher L. Brown, In America’s Long History of Slavery, New England Shares the Guilt (NYT)

Mary Beard, You May Now Turn Over Your Papers (BBC Radio 4)

Erin:

HathiTrust at U-M, NFB to make 14+ million books available to blind and print-disabled users (HathiTrust)

Terry Southern, “The Art of Screenwriting” (Paris Review)

Jonathan Dixon, “Writer Rudy Wurlitzer’s Unappreciated Masterpieces” (Vice)

Jeremy Harding, “The Theater of Aspiration” (LRB video)

Thomas Hardy, “Tess of d’Urbervilles” (Penguin, Signet Classic edition)

Carol J. Oja, “Beyoncé: Many Things All at Once” (TLS)

Simon Walton, “15cV The 15cBooktrade Visualization Suite” (Video, Vimeo)

Brooke:

Kristen Evans, “We’ve Got Nothing to Lose: Emily Books is Disrupting Publishing as Usual” (Brooklyn Mag)

Esperanza Fonseca, “Why We Can’t Allow the State to Set the Agenda for Our Liberation” ([Black Girl Dangerous])

Sarah Frostenson, “Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are 2 of 728 Americans that police killed this year” (Vox)

Nick Ripatrazone, “Oedipa Maas: Our Guide to Contemporary Paranoia” (Lit Hub)

Kit Steinkellner, “Alice Walker Wrote a Poem About Jesse Williams and His Powerful BET Speech” (Vulture)

Jake:

Jeanne-Marie Jackson “Farewell to Pnin: The End of the Comp Lit Era” (3 A.M. Magazine)

Christopher Jones, “The Deadly War of Ideas” (Gates of Nineveh)

Brianna Nofil, “In the 1920s, the Now-Forgotten Flood of ‘Girl Mayors’ Became the Face of Feminism” (Atlas Obscura)

Carolyn:

Carly Carioli, “Did the Star-Spangled Banner Land Stravinsky in Jail?” (The Boston Globe)

Alexander Keefe, “Colors/Army Green” (Cabinet Magazine)

Bee Wilson, “What Brexit Means for British Food” (The New Yorker)

 

Fortune. Failure. Fetish. Fest. Aby Warburg’s glorious Nachleben

by guest contributor Dina Gusejnova

Aby_Warburg

Aby Warburg (c. 1900)

Aby Warburg (1866-1929), the philosopher of culture, art historian and psychopathologist of modernity extraordinaire, famously described himself as an “Amburghese di cuore, ebreo di sangue, d’anima Fiorentino.” Having renounced the inheritance of his father’s bank, Warburg became known for his purpose-built library, devoted to the study of what he called the afterlife of antiquity (Das Nachleben der Antike). In 1921, two years after the founding of the Weimar Republic, it grew into a dedicated research institute based in Hamburg. Aby was anxious about the times he lived in, yet some grounds for optimism remained. A core member of his research community, Ernst Cassirer, had been appointed Rector of the University of Hamburg a year prior to his death: the first Jewish Rector in German history. Warburg, suffering a mental breakdown after the First World War, did not live to witness the near destruction of his Institute following its eventual expulsion from Germany to Britain after the Nazi rise to power, nor its resurrection in two locations, London and Hamburg, after the Second World War and the reunification of Germany, respectively.

Few would contest that it is the library in Bloomsbury where the aura of the founder most continues to be felt. The current chief archivist, Claudia Wedepohl, had the initial idea to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Warburg’s birth this July. Though Wedepohl kept a low profile throughout the event, the conference proved her own resounding success. An initial restricted list of free tickets were snapped up within days of the quiet announcement. To make the Warburg Fest happen, the organizers switched to one of the largest lecture halls in the University.

Work. Legacy. Promise

Photo courtesy of the author

As current Director of the Warburg Institute in London, David Freedberg, reminded attendees, however, paradoxically the fortune of the institute had never been less secure than now. It has recently come under great financial pressure from the University of London, and only survived after a 2014 court ruling in its favour. A recent major research project, operating under the enigmatic name of Bilderfahrzeuge (named after a concept Warburg has once used in a postcard), owes its existence not to British but to German taxpayers. It has recruited a majority of its postdoctoral scholars from German institutions. It is worth adding to this that the two Warburgian havens of culture exhibit some anachronisms. They do not appear to attract non-Europeans or non-North Americans. Besides, all but one of the Institute’s Directors have been men, with the only woman, Gertrud Bing, having served from 1954 to 1959. It was particularly puzzling that two distinguished women who have broken paths for Warburg-inspired scholarship, former Archivist Dorothea McEwan and Librarian Jill Kraye, did not speak at the conference.

It is obviously the idea of Warburg’s personality or, more precisely, his elusive fondness for humanism that resonates with some of our contemporaries as it had with his. Intellectuals in Weimar Germany praised his invigorating effect on modern society, particularly at a time, as one scholar put it, when “humanism in Germany is constantly in decline” (Eduard Fraenkel to Aby Warburg, 16 May 1925). Warburg’s case also inspired works on mental illness in cultural history itself. For the philosopher Ernst Cassirer and many others, Warburg’s library gave hope and meaning. Cassirer liked to put it in the words of William Shakespeare: “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet / Are of imagination all compact [….] / And, as imagination bodies forth / The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen / Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V, sc. 1).

It was not surprising that the celebration Work. Legacy. Promise also took material possession as one of its themes. Martin Warnke offered a particularly moving vignette in this connection, which highlighted the importance of material memory to the heirs of Warburg’s foundations. He chose to tell the biography of an object. Warburg’s paperweight, a snail, ended up in the possession of a Hamburg art historian, who then bequeathed it to the chief custodian of the Hamburg Kunsthalle Eckhard Schaar, who in turn had made provisions in his will that the snail was to become the rightful property of the Warburg Institute after his death. The snail never reached its destination, however, until one day Mr Schaar’s sister made a sudden appearance at Warnke’s door. She admitted that she had grown unusually attached to it since her childhood. Asked why she was returning it now, she replied that her brother had recently appeared in her dreams, scolding her for not fulfilling her obligations as the executor of his will. The snail’s return had prompted the question which of the two Warburg institutes, the Haus in Hamburg or the Institute in London, would be the rightful owner. In the end, they decided to make a copy. It is then that they realised that the snail which the sister had returned was in fact not made of brass, as Aby Warburg’s notes had described it, at all but of a cheaper alloy. The Hamburg team dutifully produced a brass copy, and Warnke personally used this celebration of Warburg’s birth to hand it over in front of the audience. Curiously, this copy matched Warburg’s own idea more closely than the purported original.

The snail handover

Photo courtesy of the author

So, what are we to make of Warburg’s act of cultural patronage in historical perspective? Horst Bredekamp suggested comparing it to Wilhelmine foundations such as the Bode Museum. Funded with capital sourced from the private banking sector, it emerged at a time when the German state was in severe crisis, but the memory of the public wealth of the Wilhelmine era was still vivid. Scholars of Jewish background were visibly represented there mainly because limitations in the career progression of academics were still in place throughout the Wilhelmine era. In the end, this theme – Warburg’s fraught relationship with his own Jewish identity – was strangely absent in the conference with the exception of Bredekamp’s brief treatment of the so-called “imperial Jews.”

Warburg himself encouraged thinking of his own work as an art historian and ethnographer as a process of “undemonizing the phobically imprinted inherited mass of impressions” [der Entdämonisierungsprozess der phobisch geprägten Eindruckserbmasse]. Did his madness precede Warburg’s method, or is it an occupational risk for anyone trying to think of visual culture both in terms of pedigree and in terms of synchronic association, as Claudia Wedepohl suggested? Was there an aesthetic purpose to Warburg’s assemblages, as George-Didi Huberman’s idea of a knowledge-montage might suggest? Or was Warburg’s way of thinking about lineages and pedigree Darwinian, as Sigrid Weigel insinuated? Like a snail’s path, the life of Warburg’s mind and its afterlives emerged in different ways at this conference.

“Sometimes it appears to me,” Aby Warburg wrote in his diary on April 3, 1929, “as if I, the psycho-historian, were trying to deduct the schizophrenia of the West from the imagery of autobiographical references” (Gombrich, Warburg, p. 302). On this occasion, the most stirring example of this intimate link between Warburg’s persona and the precariousness of our personal present came from W.J.T. Mitchell. Sharing his current work on insanity and visual culture, he sought to make sense of his own son Gabriel’s suicide by placing his project in a comparative perspective with the history of Warburg’s mental life-world.

As Freedberg made clear, the boundary between Enlightenment encyclopaedism and what he called Warburg’s “genealogical” approach, “pathetic in its reliance on reproduction and multiplication,” has always been porous. This critical remark would have felt almost dismissive were it not for the double entendre, which was impossible to miss for those familiar with Warburg’s work. For those doubting Warburg’s powers of logos, he remains a beacon of insight with his pathos. Warburg was not the first to signal the role of the emotions as a factor in the form and transmission of ideas, and in fact had been inspired in this by Darwin as well as his contemporary Richard Semon. His term Pathosformel captures his belief that emotions, like languages, can be captured and transmitted in the form of an engram, gesture, or symbol, and thus become the objects of study. Some papers used Warburgian formulae with a pathos that came close to magical incantations, speaking of Seelenraumbekenner, Engramme höchster Ergriffenheit, Wunschräume and Denkzwischenräume.

As Carlo Ginzburg suggested in advancing his own intellectual genealogy of Warburg’s Pathosformeln, Warburg’s method could be equally seen as a forensic approach to cultural genealogy. By extension, the task in tracing the fortune of an idea is not merely antiquarian but also moral in the way in which aesthetic practice had always been deeply embedded in theories of moral sensibility, if we only think of Burke, Kant, and, in Ginzburg’s case, Pseudo-Longinus. For some art historians, tuning our eye to the veins of the marble from which ancient sculptures were made as if they were indeed the blood vessels of a living being (Frank Fehrenbach) becomes a Warburgian practice. It makes the analysis of form a matter subservient to the understanding of the emotions.

Yet, just as the copied snail turns out to be a more authentic piece than the purported inherited original, some of the less eulogistic papers were in fact far more self-evidently Warburgian. Robert Darnton did not speak about Warburg but returned to an old question: What books did the French read on the eve of the French revolution? He applied Occam’s razor to formulate a more manageable question, namely, what books did the French buy before the French revolution? This allowed him to “use maps to highlight diachronic processes” (Claudia Wedepohl’s phrase), a feature of the Mnemosyne atlas, by tracking the paths of Swiss booksellers. This produced a literary Tour de France which could perhaps have linked back to his own studies of the visual. In the end, however, a fortune history of books and their sellers might not satisfy those seeking to know the fortune histories of ideas.

Contradicting Lorraine Daston’s curious observation that the humanities do not tend to think about the epistemological value of case studies—though without saying as much—Quentin Skinner performed an act of iconographic hermeneutics with his usual rhetorical finesse. In picking up on previous work by Horst Bredekamp on the frontispiece of Hobbes’s Leviathan and his own work on this subject, he effectively articulated a question which had been missing from a room full of answers: Why engage in studies of the Afterlife of Antiquity at all?

800px-Leviathan_by_Thomas_Hobbes

Frontispiece of Leviathan by Abraham Bosse, with input from Hobbes (1651)

The answer emerged from his performance of thinking. Without the knowledge of this transmission, we may not be able to discern the meaning of past communications at all, be they textual or visual. (At least not those communications which had themselves been produced by highly erudite authors.) When it comes to the place of Hobbes’s Leviathan in the genealogy of the idea of sovereignty, nobody has developed a more rigorous way of assessing the place of the frontispiece in the architecture of Hobbes’s argument than Skinner himself. His charted path – a genealogy of visual persuasion — leads to the biography of the artist who designed the frontispiece (something which Horst Bredekamp had provided before), as well as to the portraiture of sovereignty itself. Panofsky, Warburg’s mentee, can help with the formal side of this analysis, highlighting the frontispiece’s merging of two opposing traditions of representing power: the triangle of the Trinity (the power of God), and the triangle emerging from tracing the sovereign’s sword and the crozier upwards (to represent the power of the mortal God, or Leviathan). But something more than this is needed

in order to answer the old question which has haunted Hobbes scholars, namely, whether the Mortal Man in the Leviathan was a likeness of Charles I or of his de facto murderer, Oliver Cromwell. Iconology, it turns out, is not the only path to persuasion. Skinner concluded his own hypothesis – that the man is the state itself — with an affective gesture towards a detail so self-evident that it is almost invisible: “Look at that moustache! Look at that hair!” The hair of that mortal man looked remarkably like the phenotype of all the other rulers drawn by Abraham Boss’s pen for his previous patrons. It felt as though a Warburgian Mnemosyne had lifted a veil of confusion through the language of common sense.

Perhaps it is this persistent yearning for a world in which a tiny, ‘pathetic’ detail can suddenly reveal more significant meanings, which might explain Warburg’s persistent appeal to scholars today. To adopt the phrase of an older contemporary of Aby Warburg’s, being determines Nachleben. In the end, who needs a Schrift when you can have a Fest?

Note that video of the full conference proceedings of Aby Warburg 150. Work. Legacy. Promise at the Warburg Institute, London, has been posted online.

Dina Gusejnova is a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Sheffield. After a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge, she held a Harper-Schmidt fellowship at the University of Chicago and a Leverhulme fellowship at UCL’s Centre for Transnational History. Her interests range from the intellectual history of Weimar Germany to twentieth-century European political thought and the cultural and intellectual history of statelessness. She has just published European Elites and Ideas of Empire, 1917-57 (Cambridge University Pressavailable here with open access), in which she explores the lifeworld of fading empires.

Malthus Redivivus/Malthus Revisited

by guest contributor E.G. Gallwey

In the history of ideas, the rate of population growth or decline has carried strong associations with the trajectories of societies and states. The eighteenth-century writer Thomas Robert Malthus’s principle of population has set the standard for discussion of the implications of demographic change, and placed the problem of scarcity at the center of human experience. For Malthus, scarcity of food (the limits to what could be produced from the earth’s resources), coupled with the continuous desire for sexual reproduction, was the abiding condition of human existence.

800px-Thomas_Robert_Malthus_Wellcome_L0069037_-crop.jpg

Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) by John Linnell (1834)

Malthus was not the first to talk about the implications of scarcity on economic life. But since his work was first published, he has been associated with a profoundly unfeeling attitude towards the fate of the poor. Thomas Carlyle branded political economy the “dismal science” on account of Malthus’s contention that human beings would always have to live within the limits of natural law, and that human attempts to alter natural law by schemes of improvement would most likely have negative long-term effects. Such views were largely a consequence of Malthus’s position relative to the social reform schemes championed by advocates of human plenty and invention who had developed their ideas in the context of the French Revolution, the pinnacle of Enlightenment optimism.

Just as scholars of the eighteenth century have done much to rehabilitate the tired and outdated picture of Adam Smith, Malthus’s reputation has been deemed ripe for re-evaluation. Coinciding with the 250th anniversary of Malthus’s birth and the publication of Joyce Chaplin and Alison Bashford’s exciting new book, The New Worlds of Thomas Robert Malthus, a conference at Malthus’s alma mater, Jesus College, Cambridge on June 20-21 engaged in a substantial and timely reassessment of Malthus’ thought. Scholars from a range of disciplines, including history, political science, demography, and economics, gathered for the two-day meeting.

A series of panels on day one explored the historical origin, intention, reception, and propagation of Malthus’s thought from the eighteenth through to the twenty-first century. The opening session provided re-readings of Malthus’s principles in the context of the eighteenth century’s relationship to enlightenment and revolution and to European powers’ imperial expansion in the “new worlds” of the Americas and Pacific.

Joyce E. Chaplin’s paper on the reception history of Malthus’s thought demonstrated how the 1803 “Essay on Population” not only drew directly from new world societies in its evidence base, but also sought directly to engage in a debate about the future of colonial settler societies. Largely forgotten as a critic of imperial schemes of territorial conquest and settlement, Malthus cast serious doubt on the settler fantasy of a terra nullius in the ideology of settler imperialism. Instead, writing in the vein of Enlightenment universal histories, Malthus aimed to demonstrate how new world societies illustrated the limits of resources and the dangers of displacing indigenous populations from the land. Timing was fundamental, however, to the reception and circulation of Malthus’s work; and when the revolutions and subsequent independence of North and South American colonies, suggested the possibility of an escape from the dynamics and limits of the old world, the ensuing optimism resulted in a highly partial reading of Malthus.

Christopher Brooke’s paper reconstructed the possibility of Malthus’s unacknowledged debt to the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a relation deriving at least in part from the influence of Malthus’s father, a devoted follower of Rousseau. Though both Rousseau and Malthus have long been recognized as expounding influential theories of property relations, the latter has often been depicted as a theologically-driven theorist, engaged in formulating a theodicy for lapsarian man. Brooke instead placed Malthus within a tradition of thought initiated by Montesquieu and carried forward by Rousseau, wherein the question of population was part of a broader debate on the role of climate, the size and scale of states, and their relationship to the moral sentiments of the poor as much as the wealthy. Such republican concerns engendered an interest in the form of economic development most conducive to the stability of political regimes and to the maintenance of constitutional liberties.

Such an alternate reading of Malthus, placing him outside the traditional stress on his combative engagement with the progressive reformist schemes of Condorcet and Godwin, was echoed by Niall O’Flaherty in his paper on Malthus’s approach to the amelioration of poverty. Situating his ideas within Enlightenment debates about the stadial progress and poverty of nations. O’Flaherty identified Malthus’ scientific arguments on the elements of European culture which had alleviated some of the worst population checks, suffered by earlier more primitive societies. Malthus was influenced by Adam Smith and William Paley in his utilitarian analysis of the conditions for the improvement of the poor, including his account of self-love and the role of decent and useful pride in encouraging prudence.

Alison Bashford provided a powerful explanation for Malthus’s curious non-engagement with the question of slavery, even as the multiple editions of the essay spanned the course of the debate on abolition. Citing archival evidence on the Malthus family’s involvement in a protracted legal dispute over the inheritance of a Jamaican plantation, Bashford helped contextualize the omission, which was particularly glaring given the economic significance of the Caribbean colonies in the British empire—a fact of which Malthus, as professor of political economy at the East India Company’s own college, could hardly have been unaware.

The afternoon session considered Malthus’s influence on the trajectory of economic thought and analysis in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Gareth Stedman Jones addressed the afterlife of Malthusian thought in the socialist circles of utopianism and early Marxism. Though Malthus’ thinking on the the poor evoked vituperative responses from radicals like William Godwin and the later Owenites, Stedman Jones pointed toward some important areas of synergy. These included the preponderance of mind over matter in Malthus and Godwin’s account of human nature and the contribution of Malthus’ theory to Marx’s own writing on the declining rate of profit.

This latter point formed a nice transition into Duncan Kelly’s assessment of John Maynard Keynes’s engagement with Malthusian thought. Keynes himself pursued a substantial reassessment of Malthus’s legacy, including an adumbration on the greater advantages to the development of nineteenth-century political economy if the science had followed Malthusian rather than Ricardian logic. Many of the key problems Keynes tackled in his formal economic work, as well as his polemical and political writing, drew on Malthus’s originality in thinking about deficiency in demand and economic cycles: the usefulness, in macro terms, of public-works projects in depression-hit economies. Kelly explained how the connection between social reform, eugenics, and human agency in Keynes’s mature thought intended to address intergenerational justice and the quality of states’ populations, over the traditional geopolitical concern to boost population numbers as an assurance of national strength.

Three final papers by Leigh Shaw-Taylor, Richard Smith, and Paul Warde tested Malthus’ claims against the evidence of centuries of economic and demographic change in England. There followed a public lecture, in which E.A. Wrigely provided a thorough recapitulation of the close link between Malthus’s observations on the laws guiding the behavior of land, labor, and capital and his theory of human nature. He concluded with an observation on the irony of Malthus’s theory governing the limits to growth of organic economies having been brought forth just as human societies began to discover new forms of energy which would revolutionize economic production.

The shifting perspectives of the past, present, and future on the question of scarcity and the morals and politics of human agency were frequently addressed on day two of the conference. The series of panels brought a more contemporary and global focus, though historical treatments of the role of Malthusian language and traditions of thought in the politics and economics of international development allowed for important critiques of the application of Malthusianism in non-western settings. Much of the discussion in the morning centered on how mid-twentieth-century anxieties over an impending food crisis drew on a neo-Malthusian revival. The role of states and of non-governmental institutions like the Rockefeller Foundation, and the revival of disciplines like demography, spurred a renewed interest in earth’s carrying capacity and the damage being done by the manipulation of new technologies in botany and human fertility.

The concluding panel offered a vivid sense of the way in which climate change has replaced food crisis as the dominating concern of the twenty-first century. Yet the origins of ecology and climate science, and even key concepts like the anthropocene, can be understood to have borrowed much from Malthusian thinking. Indeed, the application of temporal and geographic scale in understanding the direction of human and planetary history is by no means the only legacy Malthus imparted to his readers.

E.G. Gallwey is a PhD candidate in American History at Harvard University. Her dissertation research explores the intellectual history of political and economic thought in the long eighteenth century, with a focus on republican debates over public credit in the revolutionary Atlantic.

What We’re Reading: June 25th – July 1st

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.

Madeline:

Mary Beard, “Power to the People?” (TLS)

Luke Bretherton, “Democracy as a work in progress rather than a work of progress” (Immanent Frame)

Alessandro Scafi, “The work and legacy of Aby Warburg” (TLS Blog)

Michael Shae, “Living Dangerously with Donizetti” (NYRB)

Julia Wang, “Brexit: Britain’s Xenophobic Search for National Identity” (Huffington Post Blog)

John:

Jörg Auberg, »Der bibliophile Maulwurf« (Literaturkritik.de)

Florian Mahot Boudias, « Qu’est-ce que le contemporain ? » (La vie des idées)

Philippe Chevalier, « Sous les signes de Krzysztof Kieślowski » (Philomag.com)

Laurent Coumel, « Par-delà Tchernobyl » (La vie des idées)

John Gray, “It’s unfashionable to call someone a ‘genius’ – but William Empson was one” (The New Statesman)

Christoph Menke, »Zurück zu Hannah Arendt – die Flüchtlinge und die Krise der Menschenrechte« (Merkur)

Jana Prikryl, “15 Short Texts in Search of Hilla Becher” (The Nation)

Alessandro Scafi, “The work and legacy of Aby Warburg” (TLS Blog)

Robert Stone, “How Michael Herr transcended New Journalism” (Literary Hub)

And finally, the 2010 Conférence Marc Bloch delivered by Carlo Ginzburg: « Lectures de Mauss. L’Essai sur le don » (Canal U)

Emily:

Robert Saunders, Democracy and Disconnect: Brexit in Historical Perspective (Gladstone Diaries)
Peter Mandler, Britain’s EU Problem is a London Problem (Dissent)
Freddy Foks, Britain is in the middle of an all-consuming constitutional crisis (OpenDemocracy)
Mary-Dan Johnston, ex-pat-riot-ism (frames)

Melvyn Bragg et al, Sovereignty (In Our Time)

Elizabeth Yale, Natural History and the Invention of Great Britain (Aeon)

Ann Patty, The People Who Are Bringing Latin to Life (Wall Street Journal)

Daniel:

Andrew Arato, “The Promise and Logic of Federations, and the Problem of their stability” (Public Seminar)

Christopher Byrd, “Our Country, Our Critic” (Democracy Journal)

Daniel Fraser, “Picasso and Truth” (Ready Steady Books)

Dustin Illingworth, “An Incomplete Eloquence” (Los Angeles Review of Books)

Rachel Kushner, “Popular Mechanics” (The New Republic)

Jake:

Rochelle Gurstein, “W(h)ither the New Sensibility” (The Baffler)

Kait Howard, “UNESCO Moves to Protect Anglo-Saxon Book of Poems and Ribald Riddles” (Melville House Books)

Rachel Moss, “Academic Kindness: Chris Wickham, Europe, and Who We Want to Be Now” (Meny Snoweballes)

James Palmer, “The Isles and Europe” (merovingianworld)

Donna Zuckerberg, “In the Culture War between Students and Professors, the University is the Enemy” (Jezebel)

 

Félix de Azara: Drawn from Life

by guest contributor Anna Toledano

Decades before Darwin set out on his voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle, Félix de Azara (1742–1821) observed many of the same species of animals and plants that the famed Englishman would see during his journey. Charged by the Spanish army with the task of drawing maps of the Spanish and Portuguese territories in the Río de la Plata region of what is now Paraguay and Brazil, Azara arrived in South America on March 12, 1781 and remained in the region for twenty years. The expedition proved long and monotonous, providing the curious, assiduous Azara with much time to observe the wildlife and peoples near the Río de la Plata.

During his time in South America, Azara amassed a significant collection of natural history objects. In 1788, he sent an extensive set of birds for study to the Royal Cabinet of Natural Sciences—what is now the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid—by way of José Moñino y Redondo, the Conde de Floridablanca (1728–1808), who was chief minister in charge of Spain’s foreign policy. Azara had preserved the birds using aguardiente, a strong grain alcohol. In a letter dated September 13 of the same year to Eugenio Izquierdo de Rivera y Lazaún, the director of the Royal Cabinet, Azara indicated that he hoped to “gather all of the species of birds, describe them and send them” to Spain (Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales and Calatayud Arinero 1984, 198). The box later arrived at the Cabinet with 107 specimens inside.

The personnel in Madrid did not view the specimens with as much enthusiasm as Azara did. The arduous journey—as well as the alcoholic aguardiente—had been unkind to the “avecillas.” Vice director of the Cabinet, José Clavijo Fajardo, sent his thanks to Azara via the Conde de Floridablanca, but only for drafts of Azara’s Remarks on the Natural History of the Birds of Paraguay and Rio de la Plata and not for the ill-preserved birds. The naturalists at the museum saw them as worthless for taxidermy and study. Tragically, the Cabinet could not accommodate the unidentified, aboriginally-named birds in Azara’s collection (Figueroa 2011). Since neither Buffon nor Linnaeus had referenced any of the species that Azara identified, Clavijo considered them uninteresting and disposed of them (Calatayud Arinero 2009, 90-91).[1]

While this anecdote serves as an example of the capriciousness of what survives the sands of time and what does not in terms of objects of natural history, it also illustrates the attitude at the Spanish institution—and among educated Spaniards themselves—toward Azara during his lifetime. The Cabinet rejected Azara’s specimens because it operated within a different knowledge paradigm that did not value the same objects and methods of science that Azara, separated by an ocean, had developed for himself. Azara was not Bernard Shaw’s itinerant British sailors in the South Pacific, for whom “the problem of observing and interpreting what they saw…was…a simpler matter…than for the exiles and missionaries who followed them” and began this new, foreign way of life. Azara was not enjoying merely “extended, if dangerous, holiday;” he had, in fact, a “deep emotional break…[from] a homeland never, perhaps, to be seen again” (Shaw 1950, 85).

Azara’s lack of professional training as a naturalist may have played a role: although he was well-versed in mathematics and the physical sciences, his practical biological knowledge was self-taught. Azara maintained that his observations of animals as they lived in the wild prevented him from drawing the same mistaken conclusions as European naturalists. In his introduction to his treatise on quadrupeds, Azara stressed that he

[put] all my care to tell the truth without exaggerating anything, and to know and express the characters of the animals whose descriptions I made in their presence. Because of this I have been less at risk to fall into the errors that those who have not been able to observe them alive have not been able to avoid; those who have beheld them emaciated, hairless and dirty in cages and chains; and those who have sought them in cabinets: where, in spite of care, the injury of time must have altered the colors heavily, changing the black into brown, etc.: and no skin, nor the best-prepared skeleton, gives the exact idea of the shapes and sizes (Azara 1802, i-ii).

He lambasted armchair scientists who made all of their discoveries not in the field but using stuffed skins and bones in the museum (Cowie 2011, 5).

Azara’s professional contemporaries at the Royal Cabinet did not refuse his work in its entirety. Azara enjoyed some success from his publications in his home country as well as other European nations. Yet his books were not as effective at describing the birds as were the birds themselves. Different forms of knowledge held value over others.

Through illustrations was one way that Azara could command an audience. As Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison argue in their work on objectivity, “Whatever the amount and avowed function of the text in an atlas, which varies from long and essential to nonexistent and despised, the illustrations command center stage” (Daston & Galison 1992, 85). Azara incorporated drawings of the bird and animal species he discussed in his numerous multi-volume tomes on the flora, fauna and ecology of the South American region where he lived. His best-known works include the aforementioned Remarks on the Natural History of the Birds of Paraguay and Rio de la Plata and Remarks on the Natural History of the Quadrupeds of Paraguay and Rio de la Plata, for which he tried his hand at illustration as well, despite his admitted lack of skill (Azara 1802, iv). For the French edition, Azara hired an illustrator, but he drew from the specimens in the Paris Museum rather than from life (Cowie 2011, 135). Azara could not have it all: he had to choose between his crude drawings from the field or professional depictions of dead museum specimens. Explore the pictures below to make your own assessment. What explanatory power do these images hold?

1 Anteater

The black anteater, one of the two varieties that Azara studied, as illustrated in the French edition of his Voyages. Azara commissioned these illustrations from specimens that he identified in the museum in Paris as correctly corresponding to those in his notes from South America (Azara 1850, 4). He corrected a falsely held notion in Europe that every anteater was female and that their proboscides substituted for something more phallic in the act (Azara 1802, 65).

2 Azara's rat

Azara was the first to identify a significant number of animal and plant species during his time near Río de la Plata, including this species of rat. Modern evolutionary biologists continue to examine his own taxonomic and naming practices as well, since he classified many mammals and birds using hybrid binomials that scientists still employ today, despite his ignorance of proper practice in Linnaean nomenclature. One set of researchers, hailing from institutions such as the American Museum of Natural History as well as the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, updated Azara’s taxonomic description of varieties of opossums in order to conform with present-day research. They state that Azara’s “descriptions are detailed enough to permit unambiguous identifications of many species” (Voss et al. 2009, 406-407).

3 Azara's bird

Forty pages of descriptions and notes accompanied the birds that Azara sent to the Royal Cabinet, which totaled 84 specimens of 61 different species. He listed the birds’ descriptive, hybrid indigenous-and-Spanish names such as the “Tugüay-machete” and the “Yby̆y̆aù sociable” (Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales and Calatayud Arinero 1984, 197). In a detailed four-columned list, he also included the sex and assessments of the condition of the individual specimens (Figueroa 2011).

4 Azara map 1809 English

Azara did adhere to his original mission, lest one forget what that was. He made some efforts to draw maps of the region, such as the snippet of this comprehensive one included in the beginning of the 1838 English edition of his treatise on quadrupeds. The act of surveying proved extremely difficult not just for him but also for the Spanish representatives sent to other South American regions. Historian of Latin America Tamar Herzog describes the hurdles that they encountered, such as

treaties [that] often mentioned rivers, settlements, and mountains that never existed or were not located where the parties had imagined. Others had a different name in Spanish and Portuguese. Because the territory was not only huge but also unknown, experts[’]…work degenerat[ed] into endless debates regarding where rivers flowed and where mountains were located.

Just as with the sixteenth-century treaty of Tordesillas, Herzog writes, “these experts thus failed to reach concord on how a theoretical, imaginary line described in a European document would become a concrete, material reality in the Americas” (Herzog 2015, 32).

5 Azara Goya

A work featuring Félix de Azara appears in yet another Spanish institution, but it is perhaps neither in the expected medium nor in the expected museum. In 1805, the Spanish artist Francisco Goya painted Azara’s portrait, which now hangs in the Goya Museum in Zaragoza, Spain. Azara wears his military regalia, replete with sword, cane and well-pressed uniform. Yet, his intellectual pursuits also figure into the symbolism of the scene. He holds in his right hand a paper, indicating he is a learned man. Most wonderfully, behind him is a veritable cabinet of curiosities. Taxidermied felines grace the lowest shelf while his beloved birds overflow on the others, tucked away for study when necessary.

Anna Toledano is pursuing a PhD in history of science at Stanford University. A museum professional by training, her research focuses on natural history collecting in early modern Spain. Follow her on Twitter at @annatoledano.