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."
Now, THE SCRAPBOOK enjoys a good party as much as anyone, especially at an independent bookstore, and we like "Potato Head Blues," too. But does a bilious radio DJ who turns a tape recorder on and off, and hires somebody to type up the transcripts, qualify as a "historian," even an "oral" historian? And while we're impressed by Studs's longevity, and love skywriting, it's worth pointing out that 74 of those 95 years were spent extolling the virtues of the Soviet Union, in print and on the air, at the expense of Studs's native country.
No wonder Studs Terkel has won the George Polk Career Award--named in honor of another media icon whose fraudulent past was exposed in the pages of this magazine.
Whatever its flaws, George Tenet's new book seems to be prompting a modest rethinking of the connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. A stark example last week was this comment from the Washington Post's lefty military analyst William Arkin, a harsh critic of the Iraq war who remains skeptical of much of the intelligence the Bush administration used to justify removing Saddam Hussein:
Tenet's explanation of the workings of the U.S. government and the "intelligence" on Iraq's connection to terrorism provides the most compelling argument yet as to why we should be sympathetic to the decisions of President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding Iraq. . . . Tenet reveals a string of verified intelligence reports showing a suspicious and potentially frightening connection between Baghdad and various terrorist operatives:
* "There were, over a decade, a number of possible high-level contacts between Iraq and al-Qa'ida, through high-level and third-party intermediaries."
* Iraq, Sudan and Osama bin Laden may have cooperated on chemical weapons during the mid-1990s.
* "There were solid reports from senior al-Qa'ida members that raised concerns about al-Qa'ida's enduring interest in acquiring chemical and biological expertise from Iraq." . . .
* In the spring and summer of 2002, "more than a dozen al-Qa'ida-affiliated extremists converged on Baghdad."
* At least one "senior" Zarqawi operative "maintained some sort of liaison relationship with the Iraqis."
* "Credible information" indicated that an Islamic Jihad leader in Iraq was "willing to strike U.S., Israeli, and Egyptian targets sometime in the future."
Concludes Arkin: "That's just the credible and validating reporting that Tenet describes from 9/11 through the Iraq war."
Arkin is not the only person to see it this way. Here's GOP presidential not-quite-candidate Fred Thompson in his regular ABC Radio commentary:
On the issue of al Qaeda's relationship with Iraq, for example, Tenet said that the CIA had proof of al Qaeda contact with Saddam's regime; that the regime had provided safe haven for al Qaeda operatives and that Saddam had provided training assistance for al Qaeda terrorists. He went on to say that the CIA had no proof that the relationship was operational or that they had any ongoing working relationship--that it could have been that each side was just using the other. Maybe my recollection is faulty on this, but that doesn't seem to be inconsistent with what folks in the administration said. In other words, there was clearly contact and a relationship, but no one knew exactly what it meant.
Thompson is right. And the risk posed by that relationship was plainly one reason Iraq was--and remains--a central front in the war on terror.