I’ve become increasingly interested in the history of the 1930s, and I just finished Eric Rauchway’s The Great Depression and the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction. It has become increasingly clear to me that there are major holes in the dominant historical narrative about the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Roosevelt administration. The standard, high-school-textbook version of the story goes something like this: “Greedy stock market speculators caused the stock market crash of 1929, which triggered the worst depression in American history; President Herbert Hoover believed in an outdated laissez-faire economic philosophy, so he did nothing; thankfully, President Roosevelt was elected, and his New Deal policies saved capitalism and helped the common man survive the Great Depression; and finally, World War II was an enormous boon to the U.
(Note: The excerpts below are related to issues outside of education; I will post education-related excerpts from From Dawn to Decadenceon Wide Awake Minds, my education blog. You can find these here if you are interested.)
Here are a few excerpts from what I’ve read so far:
In any art a new technical power leads to uses and ideas not suspected at first.
Another singularity in Petrarch’s life was that he climbed a high hill in southern France in order to admire the view.
I am currently reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl, a psychiatrist, was imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz, for several years. He survived the experience and went on to develop the theory of “logotherapy,” a branch of psychoanalysis that focuses on human beings’ “will to meaning.” The part of the book that discusses Frankl’s memories of his camp experience is, like any Holocaust memoir worth its salt, extremely disturbing and difficult to read, but it ought to be read in spite of that.
I was sorting through some books in my closet yesterday, and I discovered a fantastic book which drew me away from my regular reading: The Douglas Letters: Selections from the Private Papers of William O. Douglas, edited by Melvin I. Urkofsky. William O. Douglas was a brilliant, contrarian Associate Justice on the Supreme Court as well as a transformative environmentalist and New Dealer who crusaded against rampant speculation and corruption in the financial industry.
One way to put the question I want to answer here is this: why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?
Important as science is to our present outlook, we mustn’t exaggerate its causal role here, and make it the main motor of the transformation. Our encasing in secular time is also something we have brought about in the way we live and order our lives.
“How to Think About Politics,” my most recent essay, is being featured in the August issue of Fogged Clarity. I’ve also pasted it below. If you enjoy it, please consider linking to it, sharing it, or passing it along to others who might be interested. Thanks, as always, for reading.
How to Think About Politics
First, question everything, beginning with the political ideas you inherited from your parents, family, community, church, and school.
I finished “Moby-Dick” yesterday. It was one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read - but also incredibly beautiful and rewarding.
The past is inaccurate, because we cannot determine how it was in fact, no matter how hard we try. We must rely on people’s memory, which is treacherous, because memory is constantly juggling and revising the data of experience. …In telling about an event, we ourselves cannot avoid revising it, because our narrative simplifies and composes a whole out of selected components, while omitting others.
I recently picked up Wendy Doniger’s new book The Hindus: An Alternative History. Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School and America’s foremost scholar of Hinduism, set out to challenge many prevailing notions of Hinduism and argue for a more inclusive, broad view of the tradition, a view that recognizes the diversity of folk religions in the Hindu world as well as the contributions of women, Muslims, and people of the lower castes to the Hindu tradition.
“The Next Forgotten War,” an op-ed of mine, was published on Antiwar.com this morning; check it out here. In it, I argue that we must keep the memory of the Iraq War, and the individuals caught up in its maelstroms, alive:
“As Iraq recedes from the headlines and slips from the public’s mind to make room for the next ‘crisis,’ we have a responsibility to give some thought to the two million Iraqi refugees displaced by the war and the tens of thousands of Americans and Iraqis killed or maimed as a consequence of the war.
I’ve intended to read Howard Zinn’s revisionist history of the United States - A People’s History of the United States - for years, and I finally buckled down and started it this week. It is an excellent and eye-opening book, to say the least, and I found myself becoming absorbed in and largely agreeing with the narrative of the first few chapters - his interpretation of the “discovery” and colonization of America.