Showing posts from October, 2017

The Niceness Cosmopolitan Creed

Last Monday, my department adopted a statement articulating its position on diversity *: The Department of History at the University of Chicago is strongly committed to promoting diversity, inclusion, and equity among its faculty, students, and staff in the range and content of the courses that we teach, and in the pedagogical methods that we employ in our classrooms. We recognize that over the course of American and world history broad swaths of the population have been subjected to legal discrimination and systemic bias on the basis of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, and/or disability status. Likewise, deep economic inequalities have persistently curtailed social opportunities for many. The individuals who constitute these communities have often found their intellectual contributions devalued to a degree that has attenuated human understanding, wisdom, and fellowship.  We affirm that our collective intellectual endeavors

Town and Gown

Transgender historian of economics Deirdre McCloskey has a word for intellectuals who constantly bash classical liberal (think Adam Smith) ideas about where wealth and human flourishing come from. She calls them the “clerisy.” In her words, the clerisy are the opinion makers and opinion takers, all the reading town, the readers of the New York Times  or Le Monde , listeners to Charlie Rose [ whoever that is ], book readers, or at any rate book-review readers. My people. Like me. I would say, “My people. Like me,” too, except that I don’t read the New York Times  or Le Monde , I have no idea who Charlie Rose might be, and I am pretty sure thanks to my support for Milo none of the opinion makers or takers would be interested in talking with me. But these are my people. They are like me. Academics. Book readers. Book writers. The intellectuals.  If you prefer (say it with the proper accent), the intelligentsia . Those of us who have bet bigly on our cultural capital, as Pierre B

Milo in the Dock

You’ve read the Buzzfeed article . You love Milo, but you have questions. What was he doing in the karaoke bar with Richard Spencer and friends? Why was he so mean to Allum Bokhari? Why was Steve Bannon so mean to him? Why did he write those things in the emails that Buzzfeed published? Is he really friends with Devon Saucier? You don’t want to believe what the media are saying about him – that he is secretly a white supremacist even though he just married his black husband; that he is a misogynist, racist, xenophobic bigot – because you have read his book and listened to his college talks, and nothing that he has published or said on camera fits with this description. But now that you know that he has had help writing those talks and that Allum was his ghostwriter for Dangerous , you are worried. Who is Milo? Can we trust him? Short answer, as emphatically as I can put it without being on camera myself: YES . Yes, you can trust him. Yes, I have trusted him from the first mo

Sola Scriptura**

[UPDATED: October 8, 2017, at 12:23am. Corrected version.] We are living through an interpretive crisis. Perhaps we should have seen it coming. The Christian world, after all, is now celebrating (if that is the right word) the five hundredth anniversary of being ripped apart by a similar challenge to its interpretive frame, started when a certain  obscure lecturer in theology  nailed ( or not )  Ninety-five Theses  to the door of the  university chapel in Wittemberg  hoping to initiate a debate about indulgences. (Trigger warning: talk of Scriptural exegesis to come!) Back then, Martin Luther and his fellow reformers (some of whom he vehemently disavowed, and yet who still get lumped together with him as anti-Catholic) came up with the idea that readers of Scripture should be able to interpret the texts themselves, without any necessary input from the Magisterium or the tradition. As Luther  put it : “A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or a counci

Consenting Adults

This one’s for you, Milo and John! I know that this is going to be difficult for many of you to hear, but the Catholic Church (that is, the Church taking the Pope as its institutional head) has not always recognized marriage as a sacrament. Yes, yes, I know that that is what it says in the Catechism , that Scripture “speaks throughout of marriage and its ‘mystery,’ its institution and the meaning God has given it,” but until the twelfth century, Latin theologians weren’t convinced. (I don’t know the Greek argument as well as I know the Latin, so we’re going to go with Peter Lombard & Co. here. Maybe some of my Orthodox friends can help with the Greek side of the story.) The argument is more or less an open secret among historians of canon law, that is, the law of the Church, but judging from the comments on my Facebook feed under my share of Milo and John’s wedding photo, my guess is the priests aren’t telling. So let me tell you, for Milo and John’s sake, because I know so