Tim Lacy is one of several scholars responsible for the resurgence of the field of intellectual history and the establishment of the Society for United States Intellectual History. Lacy is also a Chicago Cubs fan.
I was not cheering for the Cubs in the World Series. I have a hard time rooting for National League teams other than the New York Mets (unless those teams are playing the Yankees). But as a baseball fan who has written more than a few posts about the Mets at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, I have great respect for the kind of fan loyalty Lacy shows in this post at the blog of SUIH.
Here is a taste of Tim’s post:
Tim Lacy, one of the catalysts behind the revival of American intellectual history in the United States, has finally had a chance to read The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark Noll’s love letter to his fellow evangelicals urging them to love God with their intellects.
Here is a taste of his recent post on the book at the U.S. Intellectual History blog:
Returning to Noll, one must keep in mind that he wrote this as a faculty member at Wheaton College—the “McManis Professor of Christian Thought,” in fact. Noll is now amember in the History Department at the University of Notre Dame, but the accusatory “scandal” in the book’s title did not result in a scandalous departure, or firing, from Wheaton. In 1994-95, he was an insider historical critic. A Publisher’s Weekly blurb on the cover of my paperback says: “A brilliant study by a first-rate Evangelical mind.”
After completing Noll’s book, and then picking up (again) Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (AIAL), I’ve been surprised at how much both books agree on the Protestant roots of American anti-intellectual tendencies. Indeed, Noll prominently cites Hofstadter in the the former’s introduction. But Noll quotes from prominently from a Hofstadter footnote rather than the part of AIAL that directly correlates with Scandal. For instance, here’s the part of AIAL that goes to Noll’s concerns, as well as the concerns of many recent writers about the role of Christianity—particularly Protestantism—in America’s founding and thought life (e.g. Sehat, Fea, etc.). Here’s Hofstadter, in the opening chapter 3 (the first to directly address historical roots) directly addressing the root cause of all anti-intellectualism in American life (bolds mine):
The American mind was shaped in the mold of early modern Protestantism. Religion was the first arena for American intellectual life, and thus the first arena for an anti-intellectual impulse. Anything that seriously diminished the role of rationality and learning in early American religion would later diminish its role in secular culture. The feeling that ideas should above all be made to work, the disdain for doctrine and for refinements in ideas, the subordination of men of ideas to men of emotional power or manipulative skill are hardly innovations of the twentieth century; they are inheritances from American Protestantism.
So much for separation of religion from the American founding, whether in terms of churches influencing the state or vice versa. It didn’t matter what happened in terms of material separation because a deep-seated Protestant mindset ruled all. The latter’s anti-intellectual sensibility determined what followed—only to be enhanced by subsequent theological, scientific, or philosophical innovations.
Even Noll’s book wasn’t this assertive. Noll limited his arguments to roots and effects in Protestant Evangelicalism alone. But there can be little question that Noll built his work on ground tilled and planted by Hofstadter. Noll just made Hofstadter’s work more palatable, and less scandalous to Protestant Evangelicals, because of the former’s insider status.
Last month we called your attention to Tim Lacy’s new book The Dream of a Democratic Culture: Mortimer J. Adler and the Great Books Idea. It now seems the book has caught the attention of Scott McLemee at Inside Higher Ed who has devoted his weekly column to an interview with Lacy. Here is a taste:
Q: Did you meet any resistance to working on Adler and the Great Books? They aren’t exactly held in the highest academic esteem.
A: The first resistance came late in graduate school, and after, when I began sending papers, based on my work, out to journals for potential publication. There I ran into some surprising resistance, in two ways. First, I noticed a strong reluctance toward acknowledging Adler’s contributions to American intellectual life. As is evident in my work and in the writings of others (notably Joan Shelley Rubin and Lawrence Levine, but more recently in Alex Beam), Adler had made a number of enemies in the academy, especially in philosophy. But I had expected some resistance there. I know Adler was brusque, and had written negatively about the increasing specialization of the academy (especially in philosophy but also in the social sciences) over the course of the 20th century.
The second line of resistance, which was somewhat more surprising, came because I took a revisionist, positive outlook on the real and potential contributions of the great books idea. Of course this resistance linked back to Adler, who late in his life — in concert with conservative culture warriors — declared that the canon was set and not revisable. Some of the biggest promoters of the great books idea had, ironically, made it unpalatable to a great number of intellectuals. I hadn’t anticipated the fact that Adler and the Great Books were so tightly intertwined, synonymous even, in the minds of many academics.
Anyone who travels through the history blogosphere knows the name Tim Lacy. Tim is an active online writer and one of the founders of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History. In fact, I would go so far as to say that he is partially responsible for a revival in the field of American intellectual history.
I am happy to learn of the release of Tim’s first book: The Dream of a Democratic Culture: Mortimer J. Adler and the Great Books Idea. Here is the jacket blurb:
From the middle of the twentieth century to today, the Great Books idea has been perennially contested in successive iterations of the ‘culture wars.’ Whether embraced as the distillation of the best of Western culture or dismissed as hegemonic, elitist, and outdated, it has encapsulated the contradictions of intellectual life and civic culture in the era of American dominance. Drawing on previously unexamined sources, this book casts the Great Books idea in a new light, arguing that its proponents aimed to support an intellectually robust, consensus-oriented democratic culture. Moving from the concept’s origins in nineteenth-century cultural, industrial, and educational initiatives, author Tim Lacy highlights the life and career of Mortimer J. Adler, who moved the idea out of the academy and worked to weave it into social and cultural fabric of the United States. With attention to the frequently changing fortunes of the project and its own inherent virtues and vices, The Dream of a Democratic Culture conclusively shows that neither liberals nor conservatives can claim ownership of the Great Books idea, whose significance has always depended upon usage, selection criteria, and context.
Over at Religion in American History and the U.S. Intellectual History blog, Mark Edwards offers an early review of the book. Here is a taste:
As his subtitle suggests, Lacy uses Adler to explore one of the most controversial subjects in twentieth-century American education, the “Great Books” movement. I think, when most of us hear the words Great Books, we think Alan Bloom and conservative culture warriors. One of Lacy’s central and most welcome contentions is that the Great Books idea has never been the sole possession of the American right or left. Rather, both sides have, at different times, looked to such projects of cultural cohesion to save them from a variety of perceived existential threats (check out the conversation regarding Lacy’s 2011 blog post, “Great Books Liberalism,” for a nice introduction to the book). Lacy is most concerned with, in his words, “those people, those mid-century intellectuals who promoted the great books idea, [who] shared an implicit, cosmopolitan dream of cultural democratization” (p. 6).