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March 20, 2008

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RM

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution comments that Professor Nussbaum mentions do indeed include some rather awful anti-Semitic remarks. If you can make it past the first four or five comments, though, they appear much more balanced (at least numerically) than she represents. And many of those who are not particularly sympathetic to her piece set aside the merits of prostitution laws, focusing instead on what they deem to be Spitzer's hypocrisy (again, see Shakespeare's Measure for Measure).

Some rough numbers: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a total print and online audience of just over 2.3 million per week. About a hundred readers responded to Professor Nussbaum's piece, several of them responding more than once. About 23 of the responses express serious displeasure with her position (and many, if not most, of those are simply attacking a perceived Republican/Democrat double standard).

none

Nussbaum's "reply" is ludicrous. It dignifies (or at least calls attention to) what appear to be a bunch of outrageous responses by AJC readers. Did none of those readers make the point (the point that I think predominated in the comments on the U of C blog) that the objection to Spitzer's behavior is based primarily on the fact that he broke several laws, regardless of whether those are "good" laws?

With respect to Spitzer, the rule of law is the important point, not the soundness of any particular law. We can discuss the merits of prohibitions on prostitution any day of the week. Spitzer's breach of those laws does not provide any new context for the discussion of those particular laws.

As far as I can tell, it was not some sort of puritanical response to Spitzer's behavior that resulted in his resignation. Indeed, HE resigned. He was not forced from office by any law. There was a suggestion that he'd be impeached if he stayed on, but he didn't stay on. He resigned.

The biggest puritan in this whole story is Spitzer himself. He has always been and continues to be a hugely righteous moralizer often focusing on the fact that everyone must follow the law no matter the merits or even relevancy of a particular law.

Considering all of this, Nussbaum's comments are irrelevant. For her, the Spitzer episode seems to be about (a) the merits of illegalizing prohibition, (b) misogyny, and (c) anti-semitism. None of which have much of anything to do with the Spitzer episode, which is about the rule of law, accountability, and hypocrisy.

Michael Martin

I appreciate Nussbaum's willingness to engage some of the responses. One of the truly horrifying aspects of the online world is how much more people reveal of what's really going on in their heads because of their (usually false, or vastly overestimated) sense of anonymity. I have seen and heard enough racist and sexist remarks in a wide enough variety of online forums to know that it's not just the fringe that harbors such sentiments. There are actually many, and it should give us pause to reflect on how tenuous and contingent is our ability to shame such people into behaving in public.

Nonetheless I think she is 95% wrong in believing that Spitzer was ousted because of some lingering puritannical impulse in American politics. I mean maybe 5% (at most) of the outrage was puritanically motivated. What people were horrified by was the cold, calculating way in which he carried out his evil plans -- and if using public money to cheat on your wife and family with a prostitute isn't evil then what is?

Roach

You sure do use a lot of words to say, basically, it's A-OK that Spitzer f****d a high price whore.

Incidentally, since we're all projecting and on the brink of some misogynist pogrom, have you considered that your call for sexual liberation cum regulation to prevent misogyny might have a few problems and exhibit your own personal interests in your own heterodox lifestyle choices which I shall not name? I mean, since we're psychoanalyzin' the opposition and all.

PS Your whining about anti-Semitism was a nice (pathetic) straw man.

Henry

Nussbaum writes that, according to Otto Weininger, "Jews, like women, were focused on bodily functions and bodily desire, utterly unable to achieve the transcendence expected of a proper German male. Women, Weininger argues, can achieve citizenship and respect only if they utterly renounce sex. Weininger's ideas were loved by many high-minded Germans and Austrians, including Ludwig WIttgenstein."

Nussbaum does not actually say that Wittgenstein loved the ideas of Weininger that she summarizes here, but she leaves that impression. Yet I do not believe that there is any evidence that Wittgenstein loved, or agreed with, those particular ideas. I believe, rather, that he was influenced by Weininger's views on "The Duty of Genius," to quote the subtitle of Ray Monk's biography, "Ludwig Wittgenstein."

Victor Munoz

I have two points to make:

First, that I am far more sympathetic with Nussbaum's position on the illegality of prostitution than I am with that of any of her critics here. And, yes, there's a great deal of Puritanical fanaticism clouding popular American reaction to the Spitzer affair. And, yes, also, the legitimate moral issue here, the one that deserves attention, and which Nussbaum should also have addressed (and perhaps might still), is the hypocrisy. Somehow I wasn't surprised when the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal broke out. It was not then as though Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers fame) had been exposed as a sexual abuser of children in his spare time. Bill Clinton never exactly exuded moral trust... But Spitzer blew it. I speak as an admirer. He blew it, not as a human being, but as a politician in America. In some more enlightened place, as Nussbaum points out, he might have gotten by with a fine for breaking the law, assuming one was even broken. But the money-for-sex issue would have been a matter for shrugging one's shoulders and the infidelity one, his wife's business, not ours. Spitzer, better than most, should have known what the consequences, specifically for him---with his reputation, would be if he were caught. Hypocrisy is perhaps the only moral sin that travels well across time and culture. That's really, I think, all there is to say about Elliot Spitzer.

The other point is only distantly related to the first one. But Nussbaum invites this comment when she refers as she does to Otto Weininger in the response above. She writes, “German sex theorist Otto Weininger argued in SEX AND CHARACTER, one of the most influential books of the late-nineteenth century, that Jews, in fact, were really all women, because all Jews, like women, were focused on bodily functions and bodily desire, utterly unable to achieve the transcendence expected of a proper German male. Women, Weininger argues, can achieve citizenship and respect only if they utterly renounce sex. Weininger's ideas were loved by many high-minded Germans and Austrians, including Ludwig Wittgenstein. The Atlantans would appear to agree.” (Nussbaum alludes to Weininger in various places in her writing, including her book, UPHEAVALS OF THOUGHT.) Again, I speak as one relatively sympathetic with her program to make the world safe for Western liberal values, specifically, as these apply to women. (I say “relatively” because I have serious criticisms of liberalism in general, but I won't get into them here.) She, certainly, is scarcely alone in using Weininger as one of the all-time greatest bugbears of anti-Semitism and misogyny. I want to suggest some minor and major corrections. Weininger's book, SEX AND CHARACTER, was published for the first time in 1903. His influence was very great indeed but it was at its height mainly in the first third or so of the 20th century. Weininger did say all those things about Jews and women but the spirit in which he said them is so alien from any in our post-Holocaust and post-feminist time that I think we are being intellectually dishonest not to point out the distinction between Weininger's ideas and their popular abuse, even, and perhaps, especially, in the academic world. Some idea of the correct way to interpret Weininger from a Jewish and cultural context might be gotten, for example, by reading the penultimate chapter of Steven Beller's Vienna and The Jews 1867-1938: A Cultural History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989. The philosophical vindication of Weininger's comments about women (and men) is a more difficult (though also more revealing and far-reaching task) but it is one that is slowly taking place. (See phlogma.com.) Yes, Weininger did say that women should renounce sex. Nussbaum forgot to say that Weininger said men should, too. Before you draw the conclusion that he was insane consider that a great many of the 20th century's leading lights read and felt compelled to react to Weininger, quite often with deep admiration, and many of them, Jewish. A very short list would include, besides Wittgenstein, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Gertrude Stein, D. H. Lawrence, Arnold Schoenberg, William Carlos Williams, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Hans Kelsen, Karl Popper, Nikolai Berdyaev, Henri Bergson, Nishida Kitaro, etc. Prominent First Wave feminists such as Rosa Mayreder, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Dora Marsden also read and reacted to Weininger often with more discrimination and telling agreement than we typically encounter in academic references to him nowadays.
I have to believe that there must have been more of substance in Weininger than garden variety anti-Semitism and sex-resentment in order to garner the attention of cultural figures like these. This is not the place to argue the case but I think Weininger was neither a self-hating Jew nor a misogynist in any sense in which those terms are used today...

Actually, there is a Weiningerian connection to this flap over Spitzer, just not the one Nussbaum makes. The idiocy that shows up even in forums like this is testimony to the fact that fanaticism, of every stripe, is as alive and well as it was in Germany when National Socialists enlisted Weininger's book to shore up theories about the proper role for women in Third Reich. They were to serve as machines for the production of pure Aryan babies. At some point one of them actually read the book. It ended up consigned to the flames when they read the part about universal celibacy.

Martha, these people don't read and they don't think.

Uzair Kayani

Hi Mr. Roach,

Since you comment frequently, I wonder if you could move to providing us links to alternate viewpoints rather than offering your own wise judgments. I regret that your rants are usually unhelpful: they are unsupported, mean-spirited, and offensive. No one is interested in what you think “everyone knows.” Moreover, you don’t offer intelligent insights. You simply express a yearning for some indeterminate and over-idealized past. When you are not doing that, you are hurling personal insults at academics. You do this while remaining anonymous, because you are also a coward. This is pathetic behavior from an attorney. Your observations belong in country songs rather than law schools or courtrooms. Students at the University of Chicago are not interested in your views on what we should be learning.

Roach

I'm a U of C graduate and everyone in the Class of 2000 and thereabouts knows who I am. Who are you, oh Keeper of the Tablets? Oh, that's right, a guy from a country without much of a free speech and free debate tradition.

I've not hurled insults at Nussbaum. What I've said and said in other entries is many times more rigorous than what Nussbaum wrote above. Plus, I've not insulted her or defamed her in any way above. It is she, not I, who is defending the indefensible.

You may not have learned in your travels, Uzair, that arguments are judged by their internal rigor, their appeals to common sense, the facts behind them, the logic with which they are advanced, and their resonance with moral instincts, among other things. It's not the case that all conservatism is discredited from the get go just because you don't like to hear it and have been indoctrinated in brain-dead liberal political correctness since high school. But visit my blog if you want to learn more; there's links to factual support when required there. And you might be able even to lose the chip on your shoulder.

Roachfan

Roach is about the most interesting thing going here on this blog. Except for when there is a good left-liberal rant from Geof Stone.

Incidentally, since the blog redesign rendered it effectively unreadable (because so little of each post fits on a page), and Stone stopped insulting various religious groups, it has slowed down here quite a bit.

Perhaps it is time to go back to the old format and invite Geof Stone to comment on the Jeremiah Wright fiasco for Professor (cough) Lecturer Obama?

I'm sure he could offer us an attack on Rev. Wright and Professor (cough) Lecturer Obama's church equal to his anti-Catholic screeds of a few months ago.

Maybe then Professor Nussbaum could tag-in and she could explain to us that anyone who criticizes Rev. Wright is acting out some sort of secret racist feelings. Then she could regale us with another thrilling story of large metal rods being put in people's vaginas. And I thought this was a family blog.

In fact, perhaps we should have a "Metal Rod In Vagina" symposium on the blog? As long as we could do it in the old format, I'm game. Maybe invite Jeremiah Wright as a guest blogger? Or Professor (cough) Lecturer Obama?

John

Prof. Nussbaum, Your response is disappointing. It raises many strawman points and isolates a few responses to fit an ideology. You are 1000 times smarter than I but I have realized that smartness means little and is often an obstacle to wisdom. There is nothing inherently wrong with being "puritanical." And there is nothing superior about your perspective on sexual mores. Your points about sexual violence in the Atlanta responses and in Ahmedabad are simply irrelevant and serve only to protect you from the legitimate criticism that was thrown your way.

Uzair Kayani

Hi John,

I'm not sure what you mean by "wisdom," or being "puritanical."

Let me distinguish between 2 kinds of puritans and a non-puritan, as I understand the terms.

Puritan 1 (openly dogmatic): Insofar as puritanism is dogmatic (by which I mean, roughly, that it is based on "blind faith" in the word of God) there is surely something wrong with it: puritanism could dictate that you burn heretics at the stake, or drown witches, for example, and no one's reasoned argument could persuade you otherwise. You would be following divine law, after all.

Non-Puritan: If, on the other hand, you think that religious commands can yield to secular reasoning, then you are rejecting puritanism. You might reject bad secular reasons for abandoning a religious view, but you would at least be open to other, better reasons. In these cases, you would not be a puritan. You would be secular, and the fact that your conclusions line up with a particular religion would be a accident.

Puritan 2 (Closet Dogmatic): Of course, you might have the traditional view that free thinking will lead everyone to Christianity, or some other religion, and you may be disappointed when this doesn't happen. You would reject any reason that doesn't lead to your religion, but only because the reasoning is "imperfect." You would still be a puritan, but your usual dogmatic beliefs would be supplemented by another dogma: that sound reasoning must lead to your religion.

Nicolai McMaster

Uzair you didn't even touch on John's assertion about wisdom. In my day to day life I have worked alongside many college and university grads (I barely finished high school) and I find them to typically be the least efficient workers. Universities have bred a new kind of student for decades now. Lax, unreliable, and self righteous come to mind as accurate descriptions of a majority of grads we have hired. this is not to say all come out so broken, or that most were not at least partially broken before entering, but this is how many leave. their is an evident disconnect between the working masses and our "betters" the intelligentsia. Nussbaums writing serves as a blatant reminder that intelligence and wisdom have little in common. It takes very little wisdom to see the majority people who poured onto Spitzer's backside, decrying him, did so because of his obvious hypocrisy. I would call that slice of wisdom common sense. Maybe one day they can teach a course in it.

Uzair Kayani

Hi Mr. McMaster,

I regret that hiring college graduates has worked out badly for you. It is understandable that people without college degrees might do better in some positions than their graduate counterparts, and vice versa. It depends on the specific work and the motivations of the employees, among other things. Education can affect people's motivations, and this can show in the work they are drawn to. Again, I am not sure that this has anything to do with wisdom or common sense. Perhaps you should not hire college graduates anymore.

As for why people criticized Mr. Spitzer so severely- knowing this doesn't take "very little wisdom," but rather a crystal ball, or an anonymous poll. I imagine some people did it because of hypocrisy, some because he was a Democrat, some because he was Jewish, some because he was anti-business, some because they are repulsed by prostitution, some because they hate politicians, and some because they are pathologically self-righteous themselves (like the college graduates you've met). I don't see how it's "wise" to say that hypocrisy was the predominant reason. Perhaps it should be, but perhaps the "hypocrisy" charge was a pretext for something else. We didn't really hate Al Capone because of his ungodly tax evasion.

Finally, in my defense, John did not mention "hypocrisy" at all; I wasn't sure which legitimate criticisms he had in mind (see above).

LegioNofZioN

McMaster, you didn't touch enough on wisdom for my liking .... Wisdom is not easily quantifiable but it is likened to having knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action ... at least that is a definition thats fits my sensibilities. I agree with McMasters general flow in that wisdom is sadly lacking. I am of the opinion that the issue is larger than schools and is evidence of societal shifts. As it relates to the former Governor Spitzer and his situation is another question. Uzair has a point in that is is more than just his hypocrisy that made people revel in his fall from grace. I agree with Nicolai that it is probably of primary concern at least to the general public not fully versed in the circumstances of his rise and fall from power, but to those that knew him and of him, it was but one of many factors. Elliot engendered true animosity from his dealings with rivals and people he disagreed with. I think far worse than his foray into the world of prostitution was his use of state troopers to tail and keep tabs on his previous republican challenger. That to me should have been reason enough to have him step down, but I think this issue coupled with his troubles made his exit inevitable. I think you are both correct but to differing degrees in the context of the persons individual perspective in judging this instance.
Spitzer fell victim to what many republicans have in the past, when you come out as a moral authority, trying to clean things up, you can't be caught indulging in the same kind of immoral behaviour and expect your credibility to withstand the onslaught.

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