Return to Digressions

사람과 사상

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I. Michael J. Oakeshott, "Political Education" [1951]

"Political philosophy cannot be expected to increase our ability to be successful in political activity. It will not help us to distinguish between good and bad political projects; it has no power to guide or direct us in the enterprise of pursuing the intimations of our tradition. But the patient analysis of the general ideas which have come to be connected with political activity—ideas such as nature, artifice, reason, will, law, authority, obligation, etc.—in so far as it succeeds in removing some of the crookedness from our thinking and leads to a more economical use of concepts, is an activity neither to be overrated nor despised. But it must be understood as an explanatory, not a practical, activity, and if we pursue it, we may hope only to be less often cheated by ambiguous statement and irrelevant argument."

The person who first introduced Michael Oakeshott's political philosophy to me was Chaibong Hahm, my mentor in college, who I believe must have read Oakeshott under the guidance of the late Richard Flathman at Johns Hopkins. I remember reading part of the quote posted above on the front page of my teacher's old website long time ago. And it was no surprise that I later found out the same passage selected as an epigraph for Flathman's The Philosophy and Politics of Freedom [1987].

Oakeshott was the teacher of Ellen Kennedy as well, to whom I am greatly indebted. I can see Oakeshott's enduring influence on her, especially when she seems to display a particular type of skepticism-cum-empiricalism (empiricalism, according to Flathman, is different from empiricism) that does not necessarily defy idealism outright. One of the greatest seminars I attended at Penn was her Ancients and Moderns, for which I read, among others, Oakeshott's Experience and Its Modes [1933] for the first time. I personally enjoyed this somewhat archaic book far more than his acclaimed masterpiece, On Human Conduct [1975]. Oakeshott's writings on Hobbes are pleasurable to read as well.

"Political Education" was Oakeshott's inaugural lecture delivered at LSE in 1951 to initiate his tenure there as Chair of Political Science. It was quite a scandalous appointment because the person he succeeded was Harold Laski who, with his predecessor Graham Wallas, were part of the Fabian tradition. What a replacement! Laski died almost exactly a year prior to the Oakeshott's lecture.

Further digressions: That Oakeshott was Kennedy's dissertation supervisor is perhaps one of the most frequently made false statements about her academic/biographical background. No. Ellen's primary supervisor was Fred Rosen, the Bentham expert. I've read and heard of a couple of more misconceptions about her and made a few corrections to them when possible. For example, 1) Carl Schmitt was not the focus of her scholarly interests during her days at LSE. It was initially Hegel, and she eventually wrote her dissertation on Henri-Louis Bergson: Freedom and the Open Society. And 2) she is not an English. She lived there for a long time, but she's from Knoxville, Tennessee.

JK 6/2/2017


II. Amy v. Smith ...

Hey Kalind,

Glad you liked my short digression, although the majority of our students perhaps didn't care at all. So, Max Weber was the first son of his parents whose second son was Alfred Weber who was only four years younger than his older brother but lived a lot longer to see the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Alfred Weber, too, was a great sociologist in his own right, but I think his works have received less attention than they deserve at least in the Anglophone academia.

Anyway, when Alfred Weber taught at the University of Heidelberg, one of his students was Carl Friedrich who would soon become a promising political theorist/constitutional scholar at Harvard. As a predominant figure at Harvard, Friedrich was a teacher of many notable students, and one of the best was Judith Shklar, the supervisor of Rogers's doctoral dissertation!

Hence Rogers Smith (Harvard, 1980, under Shklar's supervision) - Judith Shklar (Harvard, 1955, under Friedrich's) - Carl Friedrich (Heidelberg, 1930, under Alfred Weber's). The numbers indicate the year each of them received their degree.

I could have gone further to say that Alfred Weber earned his doctoral degree at Berlin under Gustav Schmoller, one of the most important figures in the German historical school of economics in the late 19th century, which would have pushed this intellectual genealogy further back, but I chose not to and instead alluded to his brother Max Weber, whose name must have sounded far familiar to everyone. By the way, Max Weber gained wide recognition first by his famous Elbian Report commissioned by the association led by Schmoller (Vereins für Sozialpoltik), and later developed his scholarship in part by criticizing him.

And as I said, Judith Shklar was Amy Gutmann’s teacher and the reader of her dissertation too. But the supervisor of her dissertation was Michael Walzer who was also a member of Rogers's dissertation committee. And we can start from Walzer to Samuel Beer, but I do not know much about Beer's educational background. That's why I just briefly dubbed his political activism in the 1960s.

I can probably say a couple of things more which might appeal to my (and your) historian's sensibility, but I guess this should be enough for now. Hope you have a great day, and see you next week if not earlier.



* Some footnotes and further digressions:

1. This is from my email correspondence with Kalind Parish, a bright PhD/JD student at Penn, with whom I served as a TA for Rogers Smith's American Constitutional Law course. One day, I had to cover for Rogers as he was away. The cases we had to deal with on that day included Amy v. Smith,1 Litt. 326 (Ky. 1822). Amy was a woman of color who was born to a slave whom William Smith claimed he owned. Having been born in Pennsylvania, where the act of gradual emancipation was effective, Amy claimed that Kentucky should treat her like any other Pennsylvanian citizens, invoking the privileges and immunities clause of the Constitution. The Kentucky court thought differently. Amy, argued the court, was not a citizen of Pennsylvania in the first place as she did't belong to the group of "rights and privileges." Anyway, Rogers made a slide with a portrait of President Gutmann (Amy) and that of himself (Smith) in order to amuse his students. It was this slide that triggered my digression: "Amy versus Smith... Well, their interests are not necessarily antithetical to each other. In fact, they have much in common, for example, ..."

2. Rogers later found "the 25 year intervals" in my story very interesting, and he recalled supervising two award-winning dissertations that came to a completion around 2005. The authors were Sarah Song (UC Berkeley) and Justin Wert (U Oklahoma). And he kindly made a correction to my account of the Gutmann-Walzer relationship. His memory was that Amy Gutmann’s supervisor was Shklar, not Walzer. That must be true, then! I may have to double check with Amy Gutmann someday.

3. I didn’t know about the connection between Friedrich and Alfred Weber until Josh Cherniss, a political theorist at Georgetown, told me about it a few years ago. I also learned from Josh some interesting stories about Shklar's tenure as lecturer and her promotion from the rank of lecturer directly to the position of full professor. Josh himself is connected to Shklar, Friedrich, and Weber via Nancy Rosenblum, his dissertation supervisor.

4. Much later, I came to know that Samuel Beer contributed an essay to The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions (co-edited by R. A. W. Rhodes, Sarah A. Binder, and Bert A. Rockman). I learned from his essay that he came to Harvard in 1938 and completed his dissertation, entitled The City of Reason, in 1943. The Oxford Handbook came out in 2006, which means that Beer was 95 years old at the time. He died in 2009.

5. Max Weber appears to be one of the most important thinkers to many of my teachers. Anne Norton, the original thinker par excellence, has penned a number of Weber-inspired essays, including Reflections on Political Identity [1988]. When I first met Jeff Green long ago, he drew my attention to one of his teachers: the late Stanley Hoffmann from whom he learned about Raymond Aron (Hoffmann's mentor) who deeply admired Weber. Jeff told me that Aron attended Weber's famous vocational lectures (or one of them) in Munich. If true, how precocious he was! My Master's thesis advisor, Sung Ho Kim, started his career as a Weber Scholar. He used to give short hand-written comments in the margins of his students' term papers using green inks only, the practice he claimed he followed Edward Shils, his teacher and a widely known scholar and translator of Weber. Shils grew up in Philadelphia and went to Penn. His nephew Edward B. Shils was a noted management professor at Wharton School, holding six degrees all from Penn. Nate Shils, my friend and one of E. Shils's cousins (twice removed), is now a doctoral student at Penn.

JK 9/20/2017

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III. Sheldon Wolin, The Presence of the Past [1989]

"Political theory might be defined in general terms as a tradition of discourse concerned about the present being and well-being of collectivities. It is primarily a civic and secondarily an academic activity. In my understanding this means that political theory is a critical engagement with collective existence and with the political experiences of power to which it gives rise."

What John Rawls is to (American) political philosophy in the latter half of the past century, Sheldon Wolin is to (American) political theory. Both Rawls and Wolin received their PhDs in 1950, from Princeton and Harvard, respectively. Wolin's dissertation, like Shklar's, was directed by Carl Friedrich, although he once recalled that his work was not closely supervised by Friedrich. At Harvard, Wolin was highly influenced by many scholars outside the Department of Government such as Werner Jaeger (a classicist from Germany), Henry Aiken (an authority on ethics and aesthetics), and Crane Brinton (a historian of France).

The picture posted above is from a beautiful essay "In Memory of Sheldon Wolin (1922-2015)" published in Boston Review. The author, to whom the photo credit goes as well, is Anne Norton, my advisor and Wolin's former colleague at Princeton. I recall meeting her just one day after his passing. I said "what a great loss," to which she replied "yes, and it was a great life." Below are Anne's own words from the essay:

"[Wolin] gave us courage that does not depend on hope. He taught us to be fearless. Wolin saw the risks to take. He was never the fearful liberal who looked askance at democracy, searching out techniques of governance to compensate for the perceived deficits of popular rule. Never the anxious constitutionalist trying to make the present endure. Wolin had democratic daring. He sought not lasting institutions but a fugitive democracy, not liberal stability but democratic adventure."

Norton's Reflections on Political Identity [1988] and Wolin's The Presence of the Past [1989] are the first two books that inaugurated the Johns Hopkins Series in Constitutional Thought. The series, edited by Sotirios Barber and Jeffrey Tulis, published some good books, though it seems that they practically came to a standstill a few years ago.

Further digressions: quite a number of people have often falsely said that Anne was one of Wolin's students. She wasn't. They taught at Princeton together in the mid 1980s. Some readers of her Reflections on Political Identity, especially those who were not attentive to her careful use of commas, might have misread her own statement. The preface to her second book ends with the following sentence: “In writing this, I have constantly recalled my first teachers, Ralph Lerner and Joseph Cropsey, and Sheldon Wolin.”

Both Lerner and Cropsey were the students of Leo Strauss. Lerner met Strauss at the University of Chicago, under whose supervision he wrote his dissertation on Zionism (about Theodor Herzl as well as Leon Pinsker) in 1953. Cropsey earned his PhD in economics from Columbia in 1952, writing his dissertation on Adam Smith. His advisor, I believe, was Joseph Dorfman, a Russian émigré specializing in the history of economic thought. When he was still a graduate student at Columbia, Cropsey came to know Strauss who then taught at the New School for Social Research. He attended Strauss's courses at the New School for a couple of years. Later, he explicitly, and with highest respect, mentioned Strauss's influence on his doctoral study in the preface to his book Polity and Economy [1957], which was based on his dissertation.

Leo Strauss and Carl Friedrich (the same Friedrich I alluded to above in this posting as well as in the previous posting on "Amy v. Smith") went to the same secondary school in Marburg: Gymnasium Philippinum. Strauss's dissertation, which was on Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, was supervised by Ernst Cassirer, who (like Strauss) later fled the Nazi Germany to the States (in his case via England and Sweden). In 1943, Cassirer published a short essay in Social Research, aiming to (re)introduce the philosophy of Hermann Cohen, his own teacher, who inaugurated the great intellectual movement in the late 19th century commonly described as "Neo-Kantianism." Cassirer learned the name of Cohen at the lecture given by a brilliant privatdozent at the University of Berlin in the early 1890s. This not-so-young privatdozent was Georg Simmel.

In 1963, Strauss and Cropsey co-edited History of Political Philosophy, a textbook that has instructed two or more generations of political theorists. It was about three years earlier when Wolin's masterpiece came out. His Politics and Vision has instructed and inspired the same generations of political theorists, perhaps of a different kind.

JK 12/31/2017


IV. Lives in Parallel

So time has flown by fast yet again, giving rise to the advent of another new year. Every new year arrives as an intrusion on the familiar, evoking some odd feelings of change, novelty, a little bit of wonder, and some anxiety.

Yet new year offers a good occasion for multiple acts of commemoration as well. It brings the past back into life again. When the past is present, it suffers considerable idealization, alteration, or re-appropriation. The past has never been fully ossified.

The year 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Tet Offensive and My Lai Massacre. The Vietnam War may haunt us throughout this year. It is also the 50th anniversary of both MLK’s and RFK’s assassinations. And, of course, the 1968 revolution. We will perhaps be reminded of 1968 quite often this year.

This year is the centennial of the end of WWI and the sesquicentennial of the 14th amendment as well. And, most of all, I'd like to stress that it is the bicentennial of the births of two men, two men who would later die in the exactly same year (1818-1883).

Their names are Karl Heinrich Marx and Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev. One was from Trier, Germany, the other from Oryol, Russia. About fifteen years ago, I was a bit fascinated by their life trajectories, which overlapped but not quite crossed. I even thought about writing a short piece on them (fictional or non-fictional), but have never executed the plan.

Obviously, Marx and Turgenev held very different views on a variety of issues; nonetheless, there seem to be some commonalities between them. Below are, of course, some excursive thoughts.

Both Marx and Turgenev studied Hegel’s philosophy at the University of Berlin. Marx came to Berlin in 1836, Turgenev in 1838. Marx studied and worked closely with the Young Hegelians including Adolf Rutenberg and Bruno Bauer. Turgenev hang out with some of those Young Hegelians as well, but he loved to talk to G. H. Lewes and Bettina von Arnim (née Brentano). The former was a writer and scholar of vast versatility who would later become the partner of George Eliot, and the latter was the incarnation of romanticism of the time whose Goethes Briefwechsel mit einem Kind [1835] was widely known even among educated young Russians like Turgenev. Franz and Lujo Brentano were Arnim’s nephews, Friedrich Karl von Savigny was her brother-in-law. Savigny reminds me of a few other names who helped shape German jurisprudence in the 19th and 20th centuries, significant part of which I learned from Ellen Kennedy's great book, Constitutional Failure. One is Savigny's student G. F. Puchta, the intellectual father of the Pandektenwissenschaft, or scientific study of the Roman Law. The other is Carl Schmitt who once drew parallels between his stance in the Third Reich and that of Savigny under Friedrich Wilhelm IV.

But, in any case, Turgenev’s closest friend in Berlin was Mikhail Bakunin who once was his roommate. They spent their time together reading Hegel while listening Beethoven in their flat (as boring as it may sound, Beethoven's magnificent music goes probably very well with Hegel's profound prose; both of them, by the way, were born in 1770).

The nasty relationship between Marx and Bakunin is well documented. Marx once said that Bakunin was “a man devoid of all theoretical knowledge,” and Bakunin believed that Marx was “from head to foot, an authoritarian.” Their disputes caused the famous red and black divide, resulting in the disbandment of the First International.

Rudin, the eponymous character of Turgenev's first novel, is in part a portrait of Bakunin. In Rudin, Turgenev satirizes Bakunin or those who like him. His disrespect of Bakunin's political view long remained unabated, although he retained genuine affections for his old friend and helped him and his family when necessary. When Rudin came out in 1857, Marx was drafting his Grundrisse. Five years later, Turgenev's best work came out. Another five years later, Marx's magnum opus was published. These are two great achievements in the 1860s: Fathers and Sons (1862) and Capital (1867). If I have to pick one political theorist in the last century who must have read both Marx and Turgenev with greatest care and rigor, I would choose Isaiah Berlin.

Both Marx and Turgenev died in exile, one in London, the other in Bougival near Paris.

JK 1/14/2018