Undecided Voters: Ask How You Want to Be Remembered

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More precious than the American Dream is the American Myth: the optimistic notion that, in America, the sphere of freedom grows larger with time; that the arc of history, as Dr. King proclaimed, “bends toward justice.”

This myth is inscribed in countless locations throughout American history: from the Constitution’s “more perfect Union” to Abraham Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom”; from Seneca Falls to the March on Washington. And it is confirmed by those we have chosen to make the villains of our national history: men and women like Andrew Jackson, Jefferson Davis, George Wallace, and Anita Bryant who stood athwart – or turned back – the forward march of freedom.

As undecided voters head to the polls on November 8th to select the next President of the United States, they would do well to remember this myth – to reflect on its place in their hearts and in their sense of historical justice.

For, in years to come, we will be judged according to the measurements of this myth. We will be celebrated to the degree that we fulfilled its mission and admonished to the extent that we frustrated it.

So I ask undecided voters: are the gains you expect to reap from Donald Trump worth the judgment of generations? Are his promises worth more than your legacy?

Too often, Americans have answered questions like these selfishly and shortsightedly. In the country’s early decades, white Americans wrung fortunes from stolen land and stolen labor. In the Progressive Era, they built landmark reforms on the foundations of Jim Crow. And during the New Deal, they laid the groundwork for a postwar middle class that intentionally excluded Americans of color. In ways both large and small, many chose their own narrow gain over the American Myth.

Today, we face a similar dilemma. Do we want to add yet another chapter to this grim narrative? Or do we want to transcend it?

Do we want to be remembered as the generation of voters that elected America’s first black president, cheered the legalization of same-sex marriage, and elevated more women to elective office than any other before it?

Or do we want to be remembered for handing the White House to a man who paints Mexicans as rapists; Muslims as terrorists; and African-Americans as thugs. Who objectifies women; mocks the disabled; and praises foreign strongmen.

For, if eight years after electing Barack Obama, we should abet the rise of Donald Trump, we will find ourselves cheek-by-jowl in the ledgers of justice with those who consigned the Cherokee to the Trail of Tears; who rent the union in the name of slavery; and who mocked the Constitution by raising the banner of Jim Crow.

We will be no better than those who force-fed Alice Paul; no worthier than the Ku Kluxers who closed the “golden door” to Europe’s huddled masses; no nobler than the white Birminghamians who locked up Dr. King and turned the city’s fire hoses on its children.

And so, in our own name, in the name of justice, and in the name of the American Myth, we must stop Trump. We can only do this by voting for Hillary Clinton – the one candidate, for better or worse, who can realistically defeat this menace.

An Open Letter to Principled Conservatives: Stop Trump

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Dear Conservative Friends and Loved Ones,

I’ve had the good fortune to know a lot of generous, thoughtful, and righteous conservatives over the years. Some of you are friends. Some of you are family. And most of you believe in a handful of sound principles: that individuals, and not distant institutions, should control peoples’ destinies; that, on many topics, everyday people are wiser arbiters of their fate than bureaucrats; that individuals should live honorably, honestly, and with a sense of duty toward others; that, given a fair playing field, people have a responsibility to improve their own circumstances; that Americans are more similar than they are different; and that, all things considered, time-tested inertia is preferable to wild-eyed change.

In some cases, I reject these principles. But more often, my politics diverge from yours, not because of some underlying philosophical disagreement, but because I think that liberal or socialist solutions are more likely to achieve our shared goals. I say this because I want you to know that I respect where you’re coming from – even when I reject the specific policies you support. I also say it because I believe that these shared principles should discourages conservatives as powerfully as they discourage liberals from supporting Donald Trump.

And so I ask you – implore you, beg you – not to vote for Donald Trump: to oppose this man, not only in the name of decency and the future health of the American republic, but in the name of conservatism itself.

Donald Trump is not a conservative. He does not share your principles. In fact, he despises them. He is a liar, a bully, and a bigot whose depredations against “traditional morality” make the Clintons’ roster of sins look downright paltry. He does not believe in your wisdom; he believes in his wisdom. He does not believe in small government; he believes in his government. He does not believe in personal responsibility; he believes in blaming the most vulnerable members of society for problems that, in many cases, don’t even exist.

Nor, for that matter, does Trump believe in the Constitution. I’ve previously expressed skepticism about making political judgments based on the opinions of eighteenth-century elites; but I think it’s safe to say that many of the “Founding Fathers” would find most every aspect of Trump’s program – from the border fence and halting Muslim immigration to “bombing the shit out of Syria,” brutalizing protesters, and limiting press freedom – morally, politically, and constitutionally repugnant.

Some of you believe that liberals focus excessively on our differences: that talking about race, sexuality, gender, and other axes of difference creates divisions where none existed previously. I think this is mistaken. I believe that racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression create differences, and that acknowledging these inequalities is the first step toward establishing justice. But even if you think I’m wrong, you cannot possibly think that Trump’s strategy is better. Trump does not promote unity; he tars Mexican-Americans as rapists and drug dealers; Muslim-Americans as terrorists; and African-Americans as lawless cop-killers. He does not promote a melting pot, or a salad bowl, or any metaphor of integration and unity; instead, he promotes a vision of unalloyed white dominance.

Some of you have criticized President Obama for his condescending, professorial tone and for his heavy-handed use of executive orders. I think both arguments are overstated. But surely professorial condescension is preferable to infantile crudeness and inane Twitter speak. And surely, when it comes to executive overreach, we can expect little from a man whose favorite refrains are “believe me” and “trust me.”

Some of you have criticized President Obama for stating, in his now-infamous “you didn’t build that” speech, that business people were not responsible for their own success. While I continue to agree with the underlying sentiment of that speech – that private-sector successes are, in large measure, dependent upon public-sector investments – I acknowledge that Obama’s specific words were ill-chosen and insulting. Still, you must agree that, if ever these words have been true, even in their most literal sense, they are true of Donald Trump. To make this man the standard bearer of the ostensible party of entrepreneurs is an insult to honest business people everywhere. This is a man whose fortune is due, almost exclusively, to influence peddling, corruption, and inheritance: who acquired his wealth through accident of birth; who perpetuated that wealth by exploiting people’s gambling addictions; and whose present day-business model most closely resembles that of Kim Kardashian (or Bernie Madoff, if you’re feeling less generously inclined). This is not, in short, a hearty entrepreneur in the conservative mold; this is hucksterism and crony capitalism incarnate.

Some of you, I recall, criticized President Clinton for degrading the dignity of the presidential office and for making the United States a laughing stock abroad. You spoke, with reverence, of Ronald Reagan’s refusal to remove his jacket, let alone his pants, in the Oval Office. Most non-Americans that I’ve spoken to seem to have been more concerned with Clinton’s policies than his sexual exploits during the 90s. But your point is well taken nonetheless. With your objections to Clinton in mind, can you possibly argue that a Trump presidency would not incur infinitely greater damage to the presidential office? This is a man, after all, who unabashedly discussed the size of his penis in a presidential debate. A man who desperately and transparently planted exaggerated evidence of his sex life with the press. And who, as I saw firsthand in a recent visit to a French elementary school, was openly and viciously mocked by 10-year-olds abroad. Far more bleakly, Trump is a man who, like Bill Clinton, is accused of both rape and sexual harassment, whose vicious history of degrading and sexualizing women is available for all to see, and whose disdain for the most basic conventions of human decency is as profound as it is apparent. This is not a man capable of commanding respect, either in the United States or abroad.

Some of you have argued against what you derisively call the “nanny state”: an over-regulated world in which liberal bureaucrats restrict access to a wide variety of items – from guns to children’s toys – and slap warning labels on even the most obvious daily threats (i.e. hot coffee). In rejecting the nanny state, you’ve argued that life involves an intrinsic element of risk and that living freely means confronting that risk bravely and intelligently. Here, too, I have my disagreements. But, at very least, I admire your determination to live fearlessly: a determination that I hope will lead you to reject a candidate whose only appeal is fear – fear of immigrants, fear of terrorists, and fear of countless others who, statistically speaking, pose as great a threat as a brimming bucket of water, an armed toddler, or a hot cup of coffee.

Some of you have argued against the Affordable Care Act and other Obama administration policies, saying that they introduced an unwelcome element of uncertainty into Americans’ lives; that this uncertainty hampered economic growth and other positive developments over the last eight years. As I’ve argued with many of you, I think this is a selective view of uncertainty: that conservative policies introduce elements of uncertainty every bit as vast as those occasioned by the Obama administration; and that these policies disproportionately affect people who, in many instances, can least afford to confront that uncertainty.

But let’s put that aside for the moment. Instead, I’d like to focus on my own experience with uncertainty and that of friends and loved ones. As many of you know, I’m married to an immigrant. The world has done a good job of disguising this fact, as my spouse is white, well-educated, fluent in English, middle-class, European, and gainfully employed – and therefore spared the most vile forms of discrimination and bigotry heaped upon newcomers to the U.S. But she is an immigrant nonetheless, and thus nominally subject to the same laws and restrictions as the people Donald Trump gleefully paints as threats to Americans’ livelihood, security, and identity.

Because my wife is an immigrant, and because Donald Trump is poised to become president of the United States, I now fear for our ability to continue living under the same roof, let alone in the same country. Nor do I pretend that her green card will offer anything but the flimsiest protection against the jackbooted fury of a President Donald J. Trump.

And if we are afraid, imagine for a moment, how other people in similar predicaments must feel. Imagine what a Trump presidency might portend for people whose USCIS residency applications, unlike that of my spouse and me, were not brazenly approved before they had even spoken a single word to their immigration officer.

Or, if imagining is insufficient, please talk to anyone confronting this, or similar, anxieties. Talk to my queer friends or friends of color trying to imagine their lives in a Trump rally writ large. Talk to my friends who have emigrated to the United States, whose partners or parents are immigrants (documented or otherwise), or whose loved ones live outside of the U.S. and one day hope to come to this country.

And please, please, please do not dismiss this as the shrill ranting of a paranoid liberal. I freely concede that these things may not come to pass. That, even if Trump is elected, the glacially-paced legislative process and the American system’s built-in inertia may, as James Madison hoped, foil the worst of Trump’s ambitions.

But do we really want to find out?

I know that some – in fact most of you – despise Hillary Clinton. That’s fine. I’m not crazy about her myself. But she is, at very least, a known quantity. We’ve lived through eight years of a Clinton presidency. And while you may have found some or all of it distasteful, corrupt, misguided, or otherwise unpalatable, we at least know that we can survive it. Hell, you might even get some cherished policies out of the bargain, as you did with NAFTA, welfare “reform,” and the budget surplus.

More to the point: the Clintons are consummate politicians. Some of you have criticized them in the past for following the polls rather than principles. This is fair. But, believe me, the Clintons’ poll-chasing has resulted in as much harm to the liberal cause as it has to the conservative one. And, in any event, it at least ensures that they (generally) hew to a moderate course.

With Trump we can expect something very and dangerously different: despite his shocking disregard for truth and consistency, he does, at very least, seem unwavering in his support for authoritarian rule, disdain for democracy, and loathing for “outsiders.”

I’m not going to ask any of you to vote for Clinton (except, perhaps, for those of you who live in swing states where we must ensure, by any electoral means, that Trump does not take the White House). But I will ask, beg, and implore you NOT to vote for Donald Trump. Perhaps you would feel comfortable registering your disgust by voting for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, whose platform, in many respects, more closely resembles that of a traditional Republican. Or perhaps you would prefer to just sit this election out. But, please, whatever you do: do not vote for Donald Trump.

For many of you this is a redundant request: you’ve already raised and continue to carry the banner of #NeverTrump. For this I thank you and commend you. But for those of you who remain on the fence – who wonder whether there is any real difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, or who think that a vote for Trump might disrupt the political system in interesting or productive ways, or who believe that a Trump presidency might finally convince liberals to limit the power of government: don’t do it.

This man does not believe in your wisdom. He does not believe in your values, in your capacity for self-government, in your beloved sense of unity, or in equality of opportunity. In short, he does not believe in anything that a true, principled conservative believes in.

And so you must stop him. No one else can. While even the staunchest conservatives can survive another four years of Clintonian liberalism, scandal, and corruption, none of us can endure a single moment of Trump’s 140-character fascism.

With love and respect,
-Sean.

Pray for Paris; pray for us all

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It is beyond banal to observe that events like the Paris attacks bring out the best in people.

On Twitter, Parisians used the #PorteOuverte hashtag to invite strangers into their homes. In hospitals and clinics, those spared by violence lined up to donate their blood. And throughout the night, Parisian taxi drivers offered free rides to the city’s terrified citizens.

Of course, events like this also bring out the worst in us: the racism, the xenophobia, the petty point-scoring. Across social media, disdainful voices used the death of more than 120 people to attack everything from Islam and its adherents to #BlackLivesMatter protesters. And, in the days since, French and American politicians have proposed house arrest and electronic monitoring for every person on terror watch lists, an end to the venerable Schengen treaty, and a new, Islamophobic U.S. immigration policy that would admit only Syrian Christians.

Markedly absent in moments like these, however, is deep, global empathy. Not just the kind of in-group empathy that leads Parisians to admit their neighbors into their homes. Or that prompts Francophile Americans to send #PrayForParis into the electron sea. But rather a universal, humanistic empathy. The kind of empathy that leads those feeling insecure – in Europe and the U.S. – to think not just of the people with whom they identify, but of all those burdened by fear and rage around the world.

To think of the refugee, skirting the barbed wire perimeter of Hungary, wondering if she will make it to Berlin. Or the Afghan girl, wondering whether a misguided American bomb will get her before a misguided Taliban soldier. Or the black American teenager, wondering what perceived slight might leave him dead or incarcerated today. Or the Honduran child, crossing the lonely plain of the Arizona desert, wondering how he found himself in the midst of such vast, silent hostility.

Too few, I suspect, will think of these people. Too few will consider that the fear and rage they feel are, in varying measures, the common inheritance of humanity. And too few will stay their hand when leaders beg approval for their own undiscriminating wave of terror – against some ill-defined group of culprits, at home or abroad.

This is not, to be clear, an indictment of France. In this dreadful hour, and in the weeks ahead, the French people will surely comport themselves with more empathy, restraint, and humanity than we could expect from America – where politicians, absent an urgent threat to national security, propose indiscriminate bombing campaigns to great applause.

And yet few – in France, the U.S., or throughout the western world – will see this inhumane spree of violence for what it is: not as a provocation, but an invitation. An invitation for the lucky few who rarely experience fear to better understand the brutish conditions that their leaders help perpetuate. An invitation, for those wondering ‘Why us?,’ to consider the oppressed peoples, within and without the West, who regularly stagger under the same unanswerable question.

Pray, then, for Paris. But pray, too, for us all.

Learning from a week of freelancing fails

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FU_Blog_HowToFail_Index_1The past week was not the most successful in my short time as a freelance writer. Not, at least, in the conventional sense. Yes, I got outstanding feedback on a piece of writing from friends. And I learned valuable professional lessons. But I did not place an article, secure a paycheck, or do anything else that will subsidize my addiction to Lay’s kettle-cooked mesquite BBQ potato chips. Instead, I was forced to relegate this week’s article to my blog – where it shall molder without a penny to its name.

So, in an effort to wring something meaningful from this experience, I will pass along those aforementioned ‘professional lessons’ – as an example of how others, embarked upon a similar path course, might find meaning in weeks like these.

Lesson 1: You Can Ask for Help (!). Last Wednesday, I came across a video of conservative pundits lamenting Pope Francis’s anti-capitalist rhetoric. The video was objectionable for a host of reasons; but it particularly galled me as an historian because the talking heads were so obviously unaware of the Catholic Church’s anti-capitalist teachings. By the time I finished the video, I had decided to make Catholic anti-capitalism the focus of my week’s writing. The only problem: my knowledge of the subject was impressionistic – the stuff of happy hour rants, not serious journalism.

To remedy this, I resigned myself, in true academic form, to hours on JSTOR and in the University of Florida’s libraries – until I realized that asking a contact to elaborate the details of a story is a typical component of the freelancer’s research toolkit. So, instead of taking to the stacks, I took to the phone – calling a friend with an encyclopedic knowledge of modern Catholic history for help. I approached him with a draft of my argument, and, within an hour, he had provided everything I needed to transform an article framework into a well-substantiated piece of prose.

Lesson 2: Freelancers Are Writers First (a Corollary to Lesson 1). As academics, we’re trained to believe that the only important statement is an original one. If it’s elegantly-stated, all the better. But it must be original. Ironing my friend’s spoken insights on Catholic history into publishable prose, this sensibility nagged at me. “You’re not an expert on this,” the disembodied voice of Academia hissed in my ear. “You didn’t even read a peer-reviewed article on this subject! And now you’re trying to sell an argument that dozens of others have already made in the scholarly literature.”

It didn’t matter if someone, somewhere had made this argument before me; it mattered that I should say it best. And so I focused on my writing, polishing it to a sheen – trying to communicate what others had merely argued.

Time was short; and my adrenaline was pumping. But still, I could feel the hot breath of Academia on my neck – casting doubt on my every word – until I realized that I was in a different world with different rules. Here, writing, not originality, took precedence.* It didn’t matter if someone, somewhere had made this argument before me; it mattered that I should say it best. And so I focused on my writing, polishing it to a sheen – trying to communicate what others had merely argued.

Lesson 3: Successful Freelancers Anticipate Stories; Unsuccessful Ones React to Them. I thought I was pretty slick. I had drafted, researched, and polished my story on Wednesday, the Pope’s second day in the US. I planned to submit it on Thursday morning, during Francis’s final few hours in Washington, DC. And I hoped that, following some whistle-stop edits on Thursday afternoon, the article would arrive in print bright and early on Friday morning. But, in addition to some tactical errors on my part (see Lesson 4 below), I soon discovered that Friday was already too late for another pope story. Indeed, as one editor told me, her magazine was already “poped out.” So, too, were the other two publications from which I received encouraging, courteous rejections.

My takeaway: even working at breakneck speed, I had been unable to outpace my competitors – because, while I had reacted to the story, my competitors had anticipated it – lining up their pitches and their research long before Francis had even set foot in the US.

Lesson 4: SMSes Are Never Worth It (a Corollary to Lesson 3). When I finished my article on Wednesday night, I knew I had to get it in print by Friday – or else the pope’s moment would pass and with it my article’s relevance. So I decided, without having consulted the Google hive mind, that, come Thursday morning, I would submit my piece to two editors at once (being sure to notify them that I was doing so). Surely one of them would say yes, I thought. And this way I wouldn’t have to wait for one editor’s response before knocking at another’s door.

My takeaway: even working at breakneck speed, I had been unable to outpace my competitors – because, while I had reacted to the story, my competitors had anticipated it – lining up their pitches and their research long before Francis had even set foot in the US.

Turns out that this practice – known in freelancing parlance as simultaneous multiple submission (or SMS) – is nearly as noxious to non-academic editors as it is to their academic counterparts. Why I had assumed otherwise is, in retrospect, a great mystery. But, after twenty-four hours of radio silence from the two editors (both of whom are ordinarily extremely prompt in their replies), I decided to research the propriety of SMSes. Discovering that I had committed a faux pas, I beat a hasty retreat – withdrawing my submission from one of the venues and apologizing to both of my editors.

Thankfully, both editors seemed to understand that my foray in SMS was a rookie mistake rather than a mature transgression of protocol. And both assured me that, SMS notwithstanding, their respective publications were already well-stocked with Catholic-related commentary. But I can’t help but suspect that their delayed response was, at least in part, a response to my SMS. Perhaps it was a muted expression of annoyance. Or perhaps they were simply waiting to see if the other editor would pick up the piece first. Either way, by the time that I got formal rejections and could continue shopping the piece around, its moment had well and truly passed. And so, to the blog it went – lucrative only in the lessons it had afforded.

 

* This is not to suggest that originality of thought is unimportant in journalism. Time and again, journalists demonstrate outstanding originality. Rather, I’m arguing that quality writing is the sin qua non of journalism. Derivative arguments can and do get published; uncommunicative articles do not.

A short history of Catholic anti-capitalism

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Judging by the howls of American conservatives, one could be forgiven for believing that Pope Francis was the first Catholic to criticize capitalism. But, in fact, the Catholic Church has a long history of resistance to capitalism, dating back to the very origins of the latter system in the early modern period.

The Church’s historic opposition to capitalism has complex roots. Perhaps the most obvious of these involves the prominent place of moneylending in capitalist economies – a practice the Catholic Church forbade for much of the medieval and early modern periods, citing Jesus’s expulsion of the moneylenders from the Jerusalem Temple, and which it only grudgingly accepted in subsequent centuries.

More recently, the Catholic Church has critiqued capitalism on different grounds: as a newfangled social order that, along with its historical twin socialism, threatened to upend inherited hierarchies and time-honored social stability. Decidedly pre-modern in its outlook, the nineteenth-century Catholic Church condemned alike the apostles of Adam Smith and Karl Marx as rank materialists: persons who believed the way to improvement resided in this world rather than the next; and who would substitute the laws of man and nature for the laws of God.

These sentiments – both anti-capitalist and anti-socialist – would be codified by Pope Leo XIII in the 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum. Among the papacy’s first major statements on the social and economic philosophies then vying for humanity’s hearts and minds, Rerum novarum affirmed the Church’s support for private property, but also lent its imprimatur to collective bargaining, and insisted that wages should be determined, not by what the market would bear, but rather by what decency dictated. Perhaps most importantly, in light of Francis’s papacy, Leo XIII’s declaration also articulated the preferential place of the poor in Catholic economic teaching.

In the century to come, the Church would reaffirm this middle course between capitalism and socialism time and again – not only in official Church teachings like Pope Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo anno, but in everyday practice. Indeed, in the decades following the First World War, Catholic clergy and laity were expected, as a matter of course, to lend their support to labor in its fight against capital. And during the Great Depression, Father Charles Coughlin became one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s foremost critics on the left. Though best remembered for his caustic antisemitism, Coughlin was known in his day as an aggressive social justice crusader whose favored policies included a bold program of wealth redistribution and stronger guarantees for the rights of workers.

So why, in light of this history, do many American conservatives now expect Francis, and the Catholic Church more broadly, to serve as approving allies of capitalism? There are two main reasons. First, in the midst of the Cold War, the Church, like nearly every other global institution, was forced to take sides the contest between capitalism and communism. Not surprisingly, given Catholicism’s traditional heartland and the Soviet Union’s hostility to organized religion, the church lent its implicit – if not wholehearted – support to the capitalist West. Especially during the papacy of John Paul II, whose native Poland suffered under Soviet domination, the church became closely linked with anti-communism – and thus, reflexively, with support for capitalism.

Secondly, during the postwar decades, American Catholics reached a détente with the country’s evangelicals, joining forces in a culture war crusade against everything from abortion to same-sex marriage. In the process, they put aside the economic issues that had dominated church life for much of the previous century and joined a Republican political coalition whose tenets included support, not only for Catholic social teachings, but for laissez-faire capitalism as well.

And yet, even during this period – as the pope cozied up to Ronald Reagan and the American laity cast off its old support for collective bargaining – the Church’s stance on capitalism remained largely unchanged. In 1986, for instance, the Catholic Bishops of the United States issued a pastoral letter entitled “Economic Justice for All,” which declared everything from medical care and housing to education and employment human rights, insisted that “all members of society have a special obligation to the poor and vulnerable,” and pronounced that “every economic decision and institution must be judged in light of whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person.”

Six years later, John Paul II issued an encyclical entitled Centesimus annus, which despite its author’s anti-communist commitments, did nothing to soften the Church’s position on capitalism. By no means contradictory, the 1991 encyclical instead reaffirmed the Church’s long-standing commitment to a middle ground between Mammon and Marx.

In Francis, then, Catholics do not have a departure in doctrine, but rather a shift in emphasis – from the social teachings that preoccupied the Church for much of the last half century to the economic concerns that took precedence in an earlier era. Far from being a process of ‘modernization,’ the faith of Francis instead represents a return to an earlier era in Church history.

That many conservatives should be unaware of this history is no shock. Most Americans, after all, are neither historians nor theologians. And yet something else, beyond mere surprise, seems to be at work in conservatives’ response to Francis: a bewilderment that Christianity can be anything other than a bulwark of the market; and a shock that serious minds should continue to consider a world after capital.

 

** Special thanks to my friend and colleague Bill Cossen, without whose insight this piece would have been impossible. **

Onward Open Access …

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In an effort to make my research process more transparent and my writing more widely available, I’ve decided to put two of my more recent conference papers online at academia.edu.

The first, which I will be presenting at the July 2015 meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) in Raleigh, NC, is entitled “One Small Step for Beards, One Giant Leap for Misogyny: Alonzo Lewis and the Imperatives of Manhood.”

The paper shows how the mere invocation of manhood had corrupted the political principles of a nineteenth-century New Englander named Alonzo Lewis. Though generally a pretty decent human being — a poet, educator, abolitionist, and feminist with firm commitments to liberatory politics — Lewis’s involvement in a heated dispute over bear-wearing and manhood had the effect of bringing out a nasty ideological streak. In an effort to figure out why a generally decent human being would suddenly adopt the rhetoric of violent masculine physicality and patriarchal misogyny, I offer some tentative thoughts on how to re-theorize manhood in the early American republic.

The second paper, meanwhile, is entitled “The Beard Goes to War: Men’s Grooming and the American Civil War.” Originally presented at the Society of Civil War Historians in Baltimore, MD in the Summer of 2014, this paper is almost certainly my all-time favorite conference presentation.

Outlining the transformations in ideals of manhood that accompanied the advent of the beard fashion, the paper argues that facial hair constitutes an important and understudied cause of the Civil War. Anchored in an increasingly physical and violent ideal of male behavior, the conversations surrounding the beard helped convince American men (and women) that the solutions to the slavery question and sectional crisis were necessarily violent ones.

Please read and enjoy! Questions and comments are, of course, warmly welcome.