The Magazine

Harvey Mansfield, Studs Terkel, and more.

The SCRAPBOOK's favorite Harvard professor delivered the 36th annual Jefferson Lecture last week here in Washington.

May 21, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 34 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Mansfield Speaks!

THE SCRAPBOOK's favorite Harvard professor (and no, that's not damning with faint praise--we need both hands to count the Harvard profs we respect!) delivered the 36th annual Jefferson Lecture last week here in Washington. We refer of course to this magazine's valued contributor Harvey Mansfield. The host National Endowment for the Humanities calls the lecture "the highest honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual and public achievement in the humanities." If you were not lucky enough to be in the audience, you can read the text online here.

In "How to Understand Politics: What the Humanities Can Say to Science," Mansfield shows with wit and verve how our seemingly apolitical science has blinded us to the quintessentially political quality of spiritedness, which, with a bow to Plato and Aristotle, he calls thumos. Rather than shamefully simplify Mansfield's elegant analysis, THE SCRAPBOOK urges you to read it for yourself. To whet your appetite, here is Mansfield's bracing conclusion:

My profession [political science] needs to open its eyes and admit to its curriculum the help of literature and history. It should be unafraid to risk considering what is ignored by science and may lack the approval of science. The humanities too, whose professors often suffer from a faint heart, need to recover their faith in what is individual and their courage to defend it. Thumos is not merely theoretical. To learn of it will improve your life as well as your thinking. It is up to you to improve your life by behaving as if it were important, but let me provide a summary of the things that you will know better after reflecting on the nature of thumos: the contrast between anger and gain; the insistence on victory; the function of protectiveness; the stubbornness of partisanship; the role of assertiveness; the ever-presence of one's own; the task of religion; the result of individuality; the ambition of greatness. Altogether thumos is one basis for a human science aware of the body but not bound to it, a science with soul and taught by poetry well interpreted.

Speaking of interpretation: To begin to understand Mansfield's overall oeuvre, we recommend Mark Blitz's essay in the current issue (May/June) of Humanities . Blitz captures the good fortune of those Harvard students who have had the privilege of studying with Mansfield over the past 45 years, and provides a clear account of Mansfield's breathtaking scholarly achievement.

In THE SCRAPBOOK's humble opinion, it's rare for a scholar to write something that is both good and original on a single great thinker. What's striking about Mansfield is that he's written such studies on at least half a dozen--including Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Burke, and Tocque ville--to say nothing of illuminating in fundamental ways concepts ranging from executive power to manliness. It really may be that Mansfield is both our greatest living scholar of political philosophy and our greatest living political philosopher. It is only a slight black mark on his résumé that he's also a Red Sox fan.

Wrong for 95 Years

THE SCRAPBOOK admits it: Sometimes things just fall into our lap, or across our desk, that we couldn't possibly invent. A case in point is this week's announcement that publisher Andre Schiffrin, founder of the New Press, will be celebrating "oral historian" Studs Terkel's 95th birthday on Wednesday, May 16, with a series of fun-filled suggestions on his corporate website.

The literary life just doesn't get any better than this. Admirers of Studs are encouraged to gather in independent bookstores (no chains, please), credit cards in hand, and let the good times roll. You can hear what famous intellectuals think of Studs ("An American treasure"--Cornel West), order free Studs Terkel posters, mix Studs's recipe for gin martinis, listen to Studs's favorite music ("Potato Head Blues"--Louis Armstrong), order a pair of Studs-style red socks ($4.99 plus shipping), and add your voice to celebrity tributes ("Still fighting the good fight"--Victor Navasky).

Best of all, the New Press has chartered a skywriter to fly over Chicago, Studs's adopted hometown, during lunch hour with this message: "Happy 95th B-Day Studs Terkel."