Posts tagged with: historian

john-blundellThe Acton Institute lost a dear friend this week. Historian John Blundell passed away on Tuesday. According to the Atlas Network (where Blundell had served as past president and board member), he will be remembered for his writing.

[Blundell] followed his own Margaret Thatcher: A Portrait of the Iron Lady (2008) with an edited collection, Remembering Margaret Thatcher: Commemorations, Tributes and Assessments (2013). He wrote Ladies For Liberty: Women Who Made a Difference in American History (2nd expanded edition 2013) to also showcase American women that contributed to individual freedom.

One of his greatest written contributions is a slender volume, Waging the War of Ideas (most recently published in 2007 in its third expanded edition), that has served as a primer for audiences around the world looking for cost-effective ways to affect social change in the direction of greater liberty.

Mr. Blundell shared his intellectual work and wit with the Acton Institute. Most recently, he spoke at a 2013 Acton Lecture Series on “Ladies For Liberty.” He is survived by his wife Christine and two sons. The Acton Institute has been asked to organize Mr. Blundell’s public memorial; details will be forthcoming.

 

The most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, vol. 17, no. 1, has been published online at our website (here). This issue features an array of scholarship on the foundations and fabric of free and virtuous societies, ranging from David VanDrunen’s examination of the market economy and Christian ethics, offering an unique synthesis between pro- and anticapitalist perspectives, to David Urban’s examination of liberty and virtuous self-government in the works of the seventeenth-century English poet John Milton.

In addition to our regular slate of articles and book reviews, our Scholia special feature offers, for the first time ever in print, a selection from the English jurist Matthew Hale’s treatise on natural law. In his introduction, David Sytsma highlights Hale’s importance in the common law tradition:

The legal history of England and the United States of America is commonly recognized as following a unique path distinct from the rest of Europe. Whereas continental European nations followed the Roman civil law (Corpus iuris civilis) compiled by Justinian, England developed its own body of customary law known as common law. Among legal historians of English common law, Sir Matthew Hale (1609–1676) ranks as one of the most familiar names along with Sir Edward Coke and Sir William Blackstone. After an early career as a lawyer, during which time he served as counsel for the defense at the famous trials of Archbishop Laud in 1643 and Christopher Love in 1651, Hale was appointed Justice of the Common Pleas (1654–1658), and at the Restoration was appointed successively as Chief Baron of the Exchequer (1660–1671) and Chief Justice of the King’s Bench (1671–1676). In the judgment of one historian, he was not only “accounted by his contemporaries the most learned lawyer of the age” but was so well received over the course of centuries of scholarship that he is now known as “one of the greatest jurists of the modern common law.”

Given his importance, it is an honor to be able to offer this selection of his work now published for the first time.

Meanwhile, in the editorial for this Spring’s issue, I offer a primer for peer review in the face of a bit of often not-so-honorable etiquette in academia. The Journal of Markets & Morality has added new policies and practices in order to better serve our authors and reviewers and, where possible, minimize instances of misconduct. I write,

It is in light of this practice that the editors of the Journal of Markets & Morality conceived the idea for this peer-review primer. In the course of research, we have also reevaluated and reaffirmed our policy of double-blind peer review for reasons to be detailed herein. Additionally, certain structural issues enable and can even encourage the poor etiquette in question as well as other issues of quality that have come to our attention. In light of all this, we have added a few procedures with the hope of achieving higher quality reviews, streamlining the review process for everyone involved, and discharging our editorial responsibility with regard to maintaining a cordial and professional academic environment.

As is our standard practice, this issue’s editorial is open access (here).

Furthermore, with the publication of our Spring 2014 issue, our Spring 2013 issue (here), which was a theme issue on the subject of integral human development, is now open access.

Subscription information and prices for the Journal of Markets & Morality can be found here.

(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)

What does the Victorian era have to do with contemporary culture and society? Quite a bit, in the mind and work of Gertrude Himmelfarb, an American historian who called her own work “the history of ideas.” Himmelfarb has been criticized for her call to the return of traditional values (like shame, personal responsibility and self-reliance) by an academic community that prefers what they believe is a “value-neutral” method of teaching and research.

courtesy of www.superscholar.org

courtesy of www.superscholar.org


Himmelfarb wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on the British parliamentarian and historian Lord Acton, which she later published as Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics (1952). Himmelfarb found Lord Acton’s ambivalent blend of liberalism and pessimism, ideas of progress, and notions of human sinfulness, as well as his advocacy of a “judicious mix of authority, tradition, and experience, to be highly relevant for the post World War II world.” Even in this early work, she discerned a connection between the modern neglect of personal moral character and the political catastrophes of the twentieth century, including the rise of fascism and totalitarianism.  (Gertrude Himmelfarb: Jewish Women’s Archive)

(more…)

Thomas Babington MacaulayLooking through my back stacks of periodicals the other day I ran across a review in Books & Culture by David Bebbington, “Macaulay in the Dock,” of a recent biography of Thomas Babington Macaulay. The essay takes its point of departure in Lord Acton’s characterization of Macaulay as “one of the greatest of all writers and masters, although I think him utterly base, contemptible and odious.”

As Bebbington writes, “Acton, a towering intellectual of the later 19th century, was at once a strongly ideological Liberal and an entirely faithful Catholic. He considered Macaulay insufficiently liberal, and Acton, as somebody aware of the eternal law of God, felt bound to censure the historian.” It is one of the marks of Lord Acton’s historical approach that he was unwilling to bracket the question of morality from his historical judgment. As Acton contended, “Moral precepts are constant through the ages and not obedient to circumstances.” The historian could not thus proceed as if such a moral order did not exist, or was irrelevant, to the events and actions of the past. In an essay on Acton’s view of the historian, Joseph Altholtz describes Acton’s “ideal of the historian as judge, as the upholder of the moral standard.”

The biography of Macaulay at issue is by Robert E. Sullivan, who Bebbington describes as “also of liberal inclinations; and he, too, is a loyal Catholic with a firm moral outlook. The result is a biography treating Macaulay as base, contemptible, and odious.” So in one sense, argues Bebbington, what we have in Sullivan’s work is an Acton-esque biography of Macaulay, which takes into account and, indeed, passes severe moral judgment on Macaulay.

As Bebbington concludes, the biography “is less history than indictment. Macaulay stands charged with being corrupted by power—not so much his own power, even though he sat in parliament and was twice a government minister, as the power wielded by Victorian Britain.” Macaulay was captured by the triumphalism of an empire at the height of its powers, and thus propagated an imperialistic ethic:

Macaulay pandered to his country’s taste for self-aggrandizement when it was unequivocally the most powerful nation on earth. Most crucially, he sanctioned genocide: “it is in truth more merciful,” wrote Macaulay in an essay of 1838, “to extirpate a hundred thousand human beings at once, and to fill the void with a well-governed population, than to misgovern millions through a long succession of centuries.” Sullivan returns to this judgment again and again, clearly deeply troubled by it. He is outraged that Macaulay has benefited over the intervening period from silence about his “imperial ethic of extermination.” Sullivan will not remain silent.

In this way, Sullivan is seen as taking up Acton’s mantle. For as Bebbington writes, Sullivan’s critical attitude

is very much what Acton might have adopted. Acton famously remarked that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Sullivan, who alludes to a version of the dictum at one point without naming Acton, holds it to be true. He also maintains Acton’s principle that the historian must make rigorous moral judgments. For Acton, persecution was an unpardonable crime. In the same way, Sullivan believes that mass murder must be condemned as an execrable evil.

Lord ActonBebbington proceeds to outline many of the potential pitfalls of such an approach, and how they actually come to fruition in Sullivan’s work: “We do not know what allowance has to be made for conditions in the past.” In Bebbington’s view, Sullivan brings a kind of persecuting zeal to his indictment of Macaulay that “turns his book into a pursuit of his quarry for almost every imaginable misdeed.” Bebbington thus concludes, “Macaulay may have shared in the corruption that Acton attributed to any who exercise power, but he was not as black as he is painted here. He was not base, contemptible, and odious.”

Now it must also be said that Lord Acton characterized Macaulay as such in a letter, and not in a work of historical biography. The application of moral critique need not be pressed to the extreme to become relevant to historical judgment. Even if Sullivan’s work applies such moralizing into excess, however, it is not necessarily an indictment of Lord Acton’s approach, for the abuse of a thing is no argument against its proper use.

Indeed, a more thoroughgoing application of Lord Acton’s dictum about the corrupting tendency of power would apply it to the power the historian exerts as well. This stance of sitting in judgment on the far side of history can turn into a kind of self-righteousness, which corrupts the reliability and the veracity of the historian’s work. This is perhaps why Altholtz describes Acton’s view as “the most noble ideal ever proposed for the historian,” but goes on to say that “it is an ideal that has been rejected, perhaps with grudging respect, by all historians, including myself.” As Scripture makes clear, God is the only one who impeccably judges the hearts and deeds of men: “At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity,” says the Lord (Psalm 75:2 ESV).

The power of the historian in exercising moral judgments may well tend to corrupt and therefore need to be circumscribed. But this is not an argument against all exercise of such power. It does mean, however, that Lord Acton’s twin ideals of moral judgment and objectivity must be held together, or ultimately not at all.