Identity history

On December 6-7, 1968, a Symposium on the History of Economic Thought was held at Duke University. The purpose of the symposium was to induce an initial flow of manuscripts in order to launch a new journal, History of Political Economy. It was hoped that the new Journal would “become a stimulus to all parts of this field of study, a source of encouragement to scholars, and a forum for students in the subject in many lands and ages.”
At the same symposium, the participants expressed an interest in an annual history-of-thought session at the meetings of the American Economic Association. The interest of the group was conveyed to Professor Leontief, the president-elect, who welcomed the idea. Subsequently, such a session was organized by Professor Spengler and held during the New York meetings of the Association, December 1969. The session was successful; it was attended by approximately 125 persons, even though it was scheduled for 8:30 A.M. That session was the first in the field to appear on the program of the American Economic Association since 1964. A second session, held at the annual meetings of the Association in 1970, was also consequence of our efforts. Although it was scheduled for 8:30 A.M., it was attended by about 250 persons. We hope to continue to have sessions in the future.

This excerpt is from Vincent J. Tarascio “Some Recent Developments in the History of Economic Thought in the United States” History of Political Economy, 3(2): 419-431. I hereby file my complaint that past HOPE volumes are not yet digitized. If I were not at Duke I might not have been able to read and cite from them.


4 thoughts on “Identity history

  1. We have complained and complained, to no avail. Duke University Press made the mistake, in my view, of shunning large digitalization efforts, instead joining with the Johns Hopkins University Press’s Project Muse digital archive. Unfortunately, it was like corporate IT Managers buying Commodores for execs instead of IBMs in 1983. Like a number of university presses, Duke’s was slow to think about IT, and even with the strong journal division, DUP’s identity is associated with its book culture, a humanities book culture. The journals division cross subsidizes the book division. That said, DUP has been loyal to HOPE in wonderful ways, of editing, funding the conferences, and so on.

    I suggest that scholars might wish to write directly to the Director of Duke University Press on this issue.

  2. Studying the history of “thought” and the history of politics as a “science” seems to me a little like judging a cake contest based on the recipes alone–without ever actually tasting the product! I have long had the belief that politics, history and economics should be taught (and studied or analyzed) by the case method. That would examine actual real world results from the many past approaches created and applied to various societal organizations. Instead of that, current preoccupation with “thoughts” and “ideas” too often end up quite divorced from any reality. As Erik Voegelin has written, “An idea is. . .once or twice removed from the primary substance of reality, i.e., the engendering experience.. . .ideas are not the core of reality, but malleable constructions of varying clarity. . .and the ideas, once separated from their experiential roots, are subject to ideological reconstructions.” And Voegelin points out the dangers of such abstractions: “The proliferation of ‘isms’ in the nineteenth century represent a variety of fragments that are cionsidered by their proponents to be the whole of reality.” Needless to say, those “isms” created great havoc on the world’s peoples and were a root cause of what Paul Johnson called, “The Ravaged Century.” The horrors of Nazi Germany, Stalin’s communism, Pol Pot’s genocide, Mao’s devastating agrarian programs, and Japan’s reach for world power, all commenced from academic theories and the dreams of elite thinkers about how to make the world better. And they all failed horribly! We are fortunate that the Founding Fathers looked more at actual historic practices than at the writings of abstract philosophers who attempted to summarize political ideas. My examination of the Federalist Papers reveals that there are very few references to political scientists and philosophers and many citations of ancient republics. The Constitution was developed based on such an understanding of actual nation and city states. Indeed, as Jefferson said “of Locke’s liitle book”, that’s all fine “as far as it goes.” But all the nitty-gritty details of the mechanics so crucial to our republicam structure were never of great interest to the scientists and philosophers. Voegelin writes “the conception of a history of ideas is an ideological deformation of reality.” He argued that ideas become separated from their engendering experience and become separate identities in their own right–but “deformed in one of two ways. The first type of deformation is reification into dogma or doctrine. The second type is abstraction, which deprives the ideas of their foundation of meaning.” For a fuller exposition on this refer to my book, “Common Genius,” especially chapter 12, “The Difference Between Ideas and Principles.” The problem with “ideas” and theories is that they are usually incomplete, confusing and muddled. (Try actually reading Hobbes, Locke and Montesquieu!) On the other hand, the advantage of looking at “principles” is that you start with tested and proven practices–practices that worked. Successful governments and economies are not based on ideas or concepts–they are a function of the myriad mechanics of a society’s institutional framework. Things like juries, assemblies, stock exchanges, parliaments, local district government, legal rights, private property conventions, deeds, licensing requirements, taxation, etc. etc. I suggest that in any presentation about ideas and theories one should ask, “Has it been tried? When ? Where? For How Long, Did it work well ? And, what strengths vs. weaknesses were revealed ?” After all, since Solomon established his judgeship 4,000 years ago, every conceivable form of organization has been tried in every corner of the earth. It is only be staying grounded in those experiences and tinkering with the better combinations can we hope to improve on what our Constitution already gives us.

  3. To Roy:
    What is a bit bizarre is that older issues of some of the journals of Duke, for example ‘French Historical Studies’ were scanned back to the beginning (in this case the 50s) while HOPE’s were not. I wonder if the HOPE editors were aware of this fact?

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