In recent years, scholars worldwide have found themselves under increasing pressure to publish more, especially in English-language "internationally circulated" journals that are included in globally respected indexes such as the ISI Citations. As a result, journals in these networks have been inundated by submissions and many of them accept as few as 10 percent of papers, and in some cases fewer. Given that too few journals or other channels exist to accommodate all the articles written, there has been a proliferation of new publishers offering new journals in every imaginable field (see, for example, the Directory of Open Access Journals). While some inventive scholars and publishers have responded to scholarly demands and new research trends, clever people have understood that new technology has created confusion as well as opportunities and that money can be made in the knowledge communication business.
Fake and Low-Quality Journals
Not surprisingly, a large number of "bottom feeders" are now starting "journals" with the sole goal of earning a quick profit and enriching their owners. One of these new journals charges prospective authors a “transaction fee” of $500 to be published. Others have alternative ways of exploiting unsophisticated authors. These so-called journals have impressive sounding names and lists of prominent advisory editors — some who have in fact never been asked to serve. Peer reviewing is touted, but one suspects that anyone who pays the fee can get published. Clearly, authors are not served by journals without academic standing that will not be read nor cited by anyone. Many of these sham journals are in the sciences, with computer science being well-represented. The primary problem, of course, is that it is increasingly difficult for potential users to discern the respectable journals from the new fakes.
A quite useful resource is Jeffrey Beall's List of Predatory, Open-Access Publishers. Other options include what may be called pseudo-scholarly journals. A prime example is the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine (AJBJM) published by Elsevier, a major multinational publisher. According to The Scientist, from 2002–2005 Elsevier was paid by the pharmaceutical company Merck — to publish articles in that journal that were favorable to Merck’s drugs Vioxx and Fosamax. Merck’s financial involvement in the journal was not disclosed. AJBJM was not the only pseudo-journal published by Elsevier. The company also published a number of other journals in the early 2000s whose research quality could be considered suspect. According to a June 4, 2009 statement by Elsevier: "An additional eight 'Journal of' titles were published with ads from multiple advertisers and therefore did not call for additional disclosure. None of these nine titles were primary research journals and should not have been called journals."
As well as exploitative journals with a primary goal to make money rather than to advance scholarship, a profusion exists of “legitimate” journals, mediocre at best — publishing articles that really should not be published. The major multinational publishers of these journals have assembled large “stables” of them packaged and sold at high prices to libraries. Though many of these periodicals are supposedly peer-reviewed, the standard is frequently low, and much weak research is accepted for publication. Many faculty probably rationalize that being published somewhere is better than not being published at all. A 21st-century paradox is that while it is ever more difficult to get published in a top-tier journal, it is now easier than ever to get published.
The 'Publish or Perish' Syndrome
Surely, the still-vibrant "publish or perish" syndrome must bear some of the blame. Universities increasingly demand more publications for promotion, salary increases, or even job security. Further, the pressure has increased to publish in English-language journals, even for scholars in non-English medium academic environments. Far too many academic institutions — a large majority of ones that mainly focus on teaching — insist that their faculty members publish.
This, their administrators believe, will improve their institutions’ rankings. Of course, publishers step in to create new journals, which publish these frequently mediocre research articles. Moreover, instead of publishing all their research results in one article, too many authors stretch them out to multiple articles or write repetitively just to increase their publications. Thus, pressure is created on scholars in many fields, who must consult an exponentially increasing number of articles — many of which are worthless. Administrators are happy that their faculty publish; the publishers are delighted to sell more subscriptions; and the game goes on.
An excessive number of journals are exorbitantly priced. Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory lists over 141,000 academic and scholarly journals, of which 64,000 are peer-reviewed. Clearly, libraries cannot afford to keep up with such numbers; for a long time, libraries have been canceling journals, due to the ever-escalating cost of serials. For years, the cost of journals has been increasing at a far higher rate than the Consumer Price Index, at a time when library budgets have generally been decreasing. The highest journal costs are invariably in the sciences (the average price of chemistry journals in 2011 was $4,044, that of physics ones was $3,499). (See Library Journal’s 2011 Periodicals Price Survey.)
The cost of some journals is indeed astronomical; for example, $24,048 annually for Brain Research, $20,269 for Tetrahedron and $17,258 for Chemical Physics Letters — all three journals published by Elsevier. John Wiley is another publisher whose journals are frequently extremely expensive. An institutional subscription to Wiley’s Journal of Comparative Neurology will be $30,860, in 2012. Though journals in non-hard-science disciplines tend to be substantially cheaper, they are also often subject to high cost increases. Library Journal’s 2011 Periodicals Price Survey reveals that journals in language and literature had a 29 percent cost increase from 2009 to 2011. Philosophy and religion were next with a 22 percent increase, followed by agriculture, anthropology, and arts and architecture being tied for third at 17 percent.
Another problem for libraries is the bundling in subscription packages of hundreds of journals that often range widely in quality. With the bundling model, the library cannot select specific journals and refuse others. Libraries are locked into a deal that often results in the acquisition of poor-quality journals with few readers. Bundling is a practice for publishers to sell journals that few libraries would subscribe to if they were to be selected individually. An additional difficulty is the nondisclosure agreements that some publishers require libraries to sign. These agreements forbid libraries from disclosing the cost and terms of journal package subscriptions. (Cornell University Library is one institution that has rejected nondisclosure clauses.)
Is there any solution to this periodicals crisis? Several strategies spring to mind. Scholars can refuse to serve on editorial boards, submit articles, or act as peer reviewer for journals that are manifestly of poor quality and/or are excessively priced. Those applying for promotion and funding can be limited to submitting, say, five or six seminal publications — the point being that the quality of one's research should count for more than quantity.
Open-access e-journals hold strong promise. Many scholarly organizations and universities have created new open-access journals that are reliably peer-reviewed and are backed by respected scholars. There are over 7,000 free, quality-controlled scholarly journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals. Some of these publications have achieved a high level of respectability and acceptance, while, admittedly, others are struggling, and there are no doubt some that are of poor quality and little relevance. It is early in the open-access movement. If successful, this movement can be an important vehicle for eradicating economic barriers to accessing scholarship. Moreover, if universities and scholarly societies, through expanding open access, can wrest more control of both the production and diffusion of scholarship away from commercial publishers, legitimate and illegitimate, as well as quality control and prices could be placed on a surer footing.
It is undeniable that presently technology and globalization have brought anarchy to the communication of knowledge in academe and have created serious problems for the academic profession, in a time of increased competition. A meaningful solution will take much dialogue and probably significant changes to how scholarship is diffused, as well as rewarded.
Philip G. Altbach is Monan University Professor and director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College. Brendan Rapple is collection development librarian at the O’Neill Library of Boston College.
The Modern Language Association has now issued its official, authoritative, and precisely calibrated guidelines for citing tweets – a matter left unaddressed in the seventh edition of the MLA Handbook (2009). The blogs have been -- you probably see this one coming -- all a-Twitter. The announcement was unexpected, eliciting comments that range from “this is really exciting to me and i don’t know why” to "holy moly i hate the world read a damn book." (Expressions of an old-school humanistic sensibility are all the more poignant sans punctuation.) Somewhere in between, there’s this: "when academia and the internet collide, i am almost always amused."
Yet the real surprise here is that anyone is surprised. The MLA is getting into the game fairly late. The American Psychological Association has had a format for citing both Twitter and Facebook since 2009. Last summer, the American Medical Association announced its citation style after carefully considering "whether Twitter constituted a standard citable source or was more in the realm of ‘personal communications’ (such as e-mail),” finally deciding that tweets are public discourse rather than private expression.
The AMA Style Insider noted that a standard format for Twitter references should “help avoid citations sounding like a cacophony of Angry Birds.”
How long was the possibility of an MLA citation format been under consideration? Was it a response to MLA members needing and demanding a way to bibliograph tweets, or rather an effort to anticipate future needs? Rosemary Feal, the organization’s executive director, was the obvious person to ask.
"The release of the tweet citation style,” she said by e-mail, “came in response to repeated requests from teachers, students, and scholars (most of them received, perhaps unsurprisingly, over Twitter). We debated the particulars on staff for some weeks. We're certain that the format we've announced is just a first step; user needs will change over time, as will technologies.”
Having exact, authoritatively formulated rules is clearly an urgent, even an anxiety-inducing matter for the MLA’s constituency. “Every time people asked me on Twitter about citing tweets,” Feal said, “I told them MLA style was flexible. Just adapt the format.” And as a matter of fact, the current MLA Handbook does have a format for citing blog entries – which would seem to apply, given that Twitter is a microblog.
“But because people wanted something very specific,” Feal said, “I asked staff to think about it…. Our hope is to remain nimble enough to respond to circumstances as they develop.” In that case, it might be time to start brainstorming how to cite Facebook exchanges, which can certainly be recondite enough, if the right people are involved. At least the Twitter citation format will be part of the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook -- though Feal indicated it would take at least another year to finish it.
Directing scholarly attention to the incessant flow of 140-character Twitter texts can yield far more substantial results than you might imagine, as explained in this column almost two years ago. Often this involves gathering tweets by the thousands and squeezing them hard, via software, to extract raw data, like so much juice from a vat of grapes. Add the yeast of statistical methodology, and it then ferments into the fine wine of an analogy that’s already gone on far too long.
So let’s try that again. Social scientists have ways of charting trends and finding correlations in tweets en masse. Fair enough. But recent work by Kaitlin L. Costello and Jason Priem points in a different direction: towards Twitter’s role in the more narrowly channeled and discussions taking pace within scholarly networks.
Costello and Priem, who are graduate students in the information and library science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, have been gathering and analyzing information about academics who tweet. Their findings suggest that Twitter has become a distinct and useful -- if exceedingly concentrated -- mode of serious intellectual exchange.
In one study, they examined the departmental web pages at five universities in the United States and Britain, compiling “a list of all the scholars (defined as full-time faculty, postdocs, and doctoral students) at each one, yielding a sample of 8,826.” Through a process of elimination, they were able to generate a pool of 230 scholars with active Twitter accounts. Out of the initial pool, then, they found one scholar in 40 using Twitter – not a lot, although it’s definitely an underestimation. Some in the pool were removed because Costello and Priem could not establish a link between faculty listing and Twitter profile beyond any doubt. (In the case of people with extremely common names, they didn’t even try.)
The most striking finding is that the scholars who used Twitter were almost indistinguishable from those who didn’t. Status as faculty or nonfaculty made no difference. Natural scientists, social scientists, and humanists were represented among the Twitterati at rates nearly identical to their share of the non-tweeting academic population. Scholars in the formal sciences (math, logic, comp sci, etc.) proved less likely to use Twitter than their colleagues – though only slightly.
A large majority of tweets by academics, about 60 percent, were of a non-scholarly nature. A given tweet by a faculty member was about twice as likely to have some scholarly relevance than one by a nonfaculty person. While the share of traffic devoted to strictly scholarly matters is not enormous, its importance shouldn’t be underestimated – especially since a significant portion of it involves the exchange of links to new publications.
In an earlier study (archived here) Costello and Priem conducted interviews with 28 scholars – seven scientists, seven humanists, and 14 social scientists – as well as harvesting more than 46,000 of their tweets. For each subject, they created a set of the 100 most recent tweets containing links that were still active. (A few didn’t reach the 100 mark, but their data was still useful.)
Six percent of the tweets containing hyperlinks fell into the category of what Priem and Costello call “Twitter citations” of peer-reviewed scholarly articles available online. One of their subjects compared linking to a scholarly article via Twitters to citing it in a classroom or seminar setting: “It’s about pointing people in the direction of things they would find interesting, rather than using it as evidence for something.”
At the same time, tweeting plays a role in disseminating new work in particular: 39 percent of the links were to articles less than a week old -- with 15 percent being to things published the same day.
The researchers divided citation tweets evenly into two categories of roughly equal sizes: direct links to an article, and links to blog entries or other intermediary pages that discussing an article (usually with a link to it). Not surprisingly, 56 percent of direct links lead to open-access sources. About three-quarters of the indirect links went to material behind a paywall. “As long as intermediary webpages provide even an abstract-level description,” write C&P, "our participants often viewed them as equivalent.”
One scholar told them: “I don’t have time to look at everything. But I trust [the people I follow] and they trust me to contribute to the conversation of what to pay attention to. So yes, Twitter definitely helps filter the literature.” Another said, “It’s like I have a stream of lit review going.”
At this level, Twitter, or rather its users, create a quasi-public arena for the distribution of scholarship – and, to some degree, even for its evaluation. Costello and Priem suggest that harvesting and analyzing these citations could yield “faster, broader, and more nuanced metrics of scholarly communication to supplement traditional citation analysis,” as well as strengthening “real-time article recommendation engines.”
On October 16, she made one of her papers available through the UCL online repository. Two people downloaded it. She tweeted and blogged about it on a Friday, whereupon it was downloaded 140 times in short order, then re-tweeted it on Monday, with the same effect. “I have no idea what happened on the 24th October,” she writes. “Someone must have linked to it? Posted it on a blog? Then there were a further 80 downloads. Then the traditional long tail, then it all goes quiet.”
In all, more than 800 people added the article to their to-read collections in a couple of months – which, for a two-year old paper called "Digital Curiosities: Resource Creation Via Amateur Digitisation," from the journal Literary and Linguistic Computing, is not bad at all.
That may be another reason why citation formats for Twitter are necessary. One day, and it might be soon, an intellectual historian narrating the development of a theory or argument may have to discuss someone’s extremely influential tweet. Stranger things have happened.
Cliopatria -- a group blog about history (broadly defined) -- is shutting down after more than 8 years of almost daily publication. Led by Ralph Luker, the blog attracted many historian/writers over the years who are web personalities, people like KC Johnson, Hugo Schwyzer, Claire Potter, Sean Wilentz and many others (including Inside Higher Ed columnist Scott McLemee). The blog was hosted by the History News Network.
A group of 81 scholarly journal publishers on Monday came out against the latest iteration of the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) -- a bill that would require federal research grantees to make their resulting academic papers freely available to the public no more than six months after publication in a scholarly journal. The bill, introduced last month in both the House and the Senate, is the third iteration of FRPAA to be introduced since 2006; two previous versions failed to make it to a vote.
The Association of American Publishers (AAP) sent letters to prominent legislators in bothchambers criticizing the bill for seeking to apply a “one-size-fits-all” deadline of six months before publishers, many of which charge for access to articles, must compete with a free version in a government database. In many disciplines, publishers retain the exclusive right to sell access to the peer-reviewed article for “several years before costs are recovered,” according to the AAP. Among the 81 signatories to the letters was Elsevier, a major journal publisher that last month withdrew its support for (and effectively nixed) the Research Works Act -- a bill that would have preemptively killed FRPAA -- after facing a boycott from frustrated scholars.
The American Anthropological Association, which caught flak last month from some of its members after its executive director wrote a note to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy criticizing public access mandates, did not sign on to either letter.
Biologists were upset this week to learn about forthcoming book by intelligent design supporters from a reputable publisher. Springer, the publishing company, is now holding up the book for additional peer review.
The prospect of reading a book about the Tea Party by a professor who supports the movement has a certain piquancy to it -- especially now, as campaigning for the Republican nomination enters what feels like its second or third year. Eight more months until the election? Even a political news-junkie's mood might turn a little gray at the thought. The Tea Party: Three Principles (Cambridge University Press) by Elizabeth Price Foley, a professor of law at Florida International University, is certainly a change of pace.
Its argument is clear enough to be forceful while revealing its presuppositions at every step. Foley regards the Tea Party as a movement that emerged as a spontaneous expression of concern to defend the U.S. Constitution from all enemies, foreign or domestic. (Whether Barack Obama counts as foreign or domestic, she does not address.) The Tea Party movement stands proudly apart from the two major parties, holding fast only to three principles: limited government, forthright American sovereignty, and constitutional originalism. It is a lucid and necessary response to threats such as "the globalist agenda" and Obama's suggestion that the founders "bequeathed to us not a static condition but a perpetual aspiration." The movement is not driven by racism, nor is it engaged in the culture wars, nor should it be treated as the religious right with a makeover. Tea Partiers are, she writes, "united in their fearless query, 'What happened to the America I grew up in?' "
That's one way to look at it, I guess, although "fearless" is hardly an apt characterization either of the Tea Party or the usual tone of that question. To ignore the level of racial animus expressed in the movement requires an act of will. In a paper from the American Political Science Association meeting in September, Alan I. Abramovitz said that an analysis of data from the American National Election Study Evaluations of Government and Society Survey showed that, while "ideological conservatism was by far the strongest predictor of Tea Party support," support for the movement also corresponded to both white racial resentment and aversion to Obama himself. "These two variables," Abramovitz noted, "had much stronger effects than party identification. Racial resentment had a somewhat stronger effect than dislike for Obama." The influence on the movement of constitutional-law scholars such as Foley is minute compared to that of the fantasies that Jill Lepore discusses in her recent book The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History (Princeton University Press). And anyone believing that the Tea Party is a spontaneous and nonpartisan movement -- driven only by the humble but anxious civic virtue of just-plain-folks -- should take Deep Throat's advice during the Watergate affair: "Follow the money."
Foley's book shares the Tea Party's politics, but not its fevers. It has the soul of a talk-radio call-in show in the body of a law-review article. It left me wanting to argue with the author, or at least interview her -- not that the distinction lasted very long. A transcript of our e-mail discussion follows. If ever there is a Tea Party think-tank, it's clear Foley would be a capable director.
Q. Your dedication page reads, "To the intrepid members of the American Tea Party movement, with admiration and respect." Would you say something about your degree of involvement or interaction with the movement? Is this book simply an expression of political sympathy, or does it grow out an activist commitment?
A: I am not a Tea Party activist personally. I have spoken to Tea Party groups, who have read some prior articles and op-eds and invited me to talk. So I have met many Tea Partiers over the last few years and have learned to admire and respect them tremendously. They are the only group of ordinary Americans I have ever met who carry around pocket Constitutions and want to engage in substantive discussions about the text's meaning. From my perspective, this can only be a good thing for the country. The Constitution has become almost a dirty word in some parts of America's intelligentsia, and it's too often viewed as an anachronistic, backward-thinking document written by a bunch of dead people who were racist, sexist, and not worth admiring. This is a dangerous narrative, and the Tea Party seeks to reverse this trend by re-embracing the Constitution and its original meaning. As someone who has dedicated her life to teaching and studying constitutional law, I find the Tea Partiers' attitude healthy and refreshing.
Q: You write that the Tea Party is opposed to people who think of the Constitution as "an anachronistic, backward-thinking document written by a bunch of dead people who were racist, sexist, and not worth admiring." That seems like equal parts straw man and red herring. The racism or sexism of the authors isn't a topic for debate, since the evidence in the document itself: Article 1, Section 2 was to gave slaveholding states extra influence by letting them have extra representatives proportionate to three-fifths of their slave populations (not that this did the slaves any good); plus it took 133 years and 19 amendments before women got the vote. This doesn't mean the framers were Neanderthals, but it does suggest that "original intent" counts for only so much.
A: I'm afraid you misunderstand the nature of originalism. I can tell by the way you phrase the question that you've never had anyone objective explain it to you -- I'm sorry for that. But it's not as though you are alone in this view, and indeed it was a view I shared myself until I went to law school.
First, let me clarify what originalism means to most self-identified originalists today. I don't know any originalists who focus on "original intent" anymore. Instead, originalism is "original meaning" originalism, which asks the interpreter of constitutional text to ascertain what the meaning of the text would be, in commonsense terms, from the perspective of We the People who ratified it. By contrast, "original intent" originalism (which again, no one seriously espouses) tries to ascertain the subjective, oftentimes unknowable "intent" of those who wrote the constitutional text (i.e., the founders themselves). Notice that when I talk about originalism, I talk about not just those who wrote the text, but those who ratified it -- i.e., We the People. This is important because the founders had extensive conversations with the American people during the ratification process -- in widely-read pamphlets, newspaper articles, speeches, etc. -- and it is this understanding of the Constitution that matters to originalists.
With that clarification, I hope you don't honestly believe this is a red herring or straw man. The Three-Fifths Clause to which you refer, for example, was anti-slavery provision, not a pro-slavery one. Remember that the slaveholding states argued that slaves should be counted as whole persons (to boost those states' representation in the House), whereas the non-slaveholding states argued that slaves should not be counted at all. What the founders ultimately proposed (and the People ratified) was a Three-Fifths compromise. It certainly by no means meant that the founders endorsed or approved of slavery. Some did; many didn't. Indeed, you should look further at the constitutional text to get a more accurate picture. The Constitution never even uses the word "slavery," assiduously avoiding it because some of the founders (e.g., Madison) thought that mentioning it by name would give it further credibility, and they wanted to avoid that at all costs. Moreover, the 1808 Clause in Article I gave Congress the power to abolish all further importation of slaves beginning Jan. 1, 1808 (20 years after ratification). This was designed to choke off all future slave trade, stop its expansion, and hopefully its demise. Indeed, on Jan. 1, 1808 -- the first day this constitutional power kicked in -- Congress enacted exactly such a law and prohibited all further importation.
So the bottom line is that slavery was a very controversial issue, for obvious reasons, among the founders. To dismiss them all as racists is far too simplistic, and disregards the fact that the constitutional text they wrote was at ambiguous on the topic (to be expected given the divergence of opinion among the ratifying states) and in some key respects, quite hostile to it.
More fundamentally, please realize that originalists such as myself do NOT advocate that judges try to reinstitute the original Constitution. This is a very common misunderstanding, so again, you are not alone. But it is simply not accurate, as I discuss in the book. Originalism asks judges to interpret the Constitution's text as it presently exists. So, for example, none of the original Constitution's clauses addressing slavery have any continuing legal validity after the ratification of the Civil War Amendments -- the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. And of course the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote, is likewise part of the text of the Constitution that is entitled to full respect and implementation.
The Constitution as a whole -- as its text and that text's historical context stands today -- is what originalists (and the Tea Partiers) seek to honor and preserve.
Q: Whatever the merits of claiming that Obama's health care reform violates the commerce clause, my recollection of the Tea Party in late 2009 and early '10 isn't one of a debate over constitutional law. It's of people carrying guns to demonstrations, growing hysterical about "death panels," and venting in ways that sounded pretty much like what you would have heard at a George Wallace rally in 1968. You refer to people carrying around well-thumbed copies of the Constitution, but what argument is there to make for that reflecting the true concerns of the Tea Party movement, rather than, say, that picture of Obama as a witch doctor with a bone through his nose?
A: As I spend a good number of pages explaining in the book, the Tea Partiers' opposition to the health care reform law is grounded in their belief in limited government. If one knows anything about this concept, one can easily see how the health care reform law threatens this foundational constitutional principle. The individual mandate is an unprecedented, breathtaking exercise of federal power. If upheld, it will have significant, negative implications for individual liberty.
A ubiquitous government presence in healthcare will indeed predictably lead to some form of health care rationing -- it is a matter of supply and demand. The health care reform law added some 32 million Americans to health insurers' rolls, but did nothing to expand the supply of available health care providers. Substantially increased demand, without a concomitant increase in supply, will lead to not only price increases (which we have already witnessed and will continue to do so), but access shortages that will necessitate some form of rationing. Tea Partiers were naturally concerned about this, as older Americans, as high-demand users of health care, are the most vulnerable in a rationing regime.
Q: You write that "the Constitution doesn’t require prior approval by the UN Security Council" for use of the military. But neither does the Constitution require prior approval by Congress. Article 1, section 8 gives Congress the power to declare war. If there ever was any sense of obligation on the part of the executive branch to seek approval for the use of military force abroad, it's been more or less a dead letter since the Korean "police action" -- with the War Powers Act of 1973 not changing the situation much. According to a Library of Congress report, "U.S. Presidents have consistently taken the position that the War Powers Resolution is an unconstitutional infringement upon the power of the executive branch," beginning with Richard Nixon.
A: Completely agree with you here. The war power is shared between Congress and the President. As Commander-in-Chief, the President under Article II can commit US troops in defense of US interests. Congress can declare a formal war, constitutionally, but doesn't have to, and the Supreme Court has never said otherwise. Congress's ultimate power lies in the power of the purse — i.e., withholding appropriations.
Q: You go on to say, "Americans – particularly Tea Partiers – would think it odd that either our Supreme Court or our president would think they need to consult with the international community before doing what they think is right for America." But how is that an either/or? "Consulting with the international community" is a matter of building support for what the US is going to do in any case. How seriously can we take the "globalist agenda" as something to worry about, given that US leaders, Democratic and Republican alike, pay exactly as much attention to international law or world public opinion as is expeditious for pursuing what they regard as the national interest?
A: "Consulting" is fine, if by that word you mean literally "consulting" rather than asking for approval. The difficulty with President Obama's statements prior to committing troops to Libya was that he espoused a view — embraced by progressives — that something more than mere consultation was desirable and necessary. He suggested that it would contravene international law to commit U.S. troops without prior UN Security Council approval, and it is that radical position about which tea partiers are concerned, from the perspective of defending US Sovereignty.
Q: You only quote Tea Party people once or twice, if memory serves, not counting a couple of passages from Glenn Beck. The book seems not so much about the Tea Party, or even of the movement, as for it. That is, you offer arguments and perspectives that support Tea Party positions -- but they express your sense of how the TPers ought to be arguing. You downplay any "culture war" or social-conservative aspect of the movement, although there's evidence that the Tea Party overlaps considerably with the religious right. I've given you a hard time here about the element of racism that has been abundantly evident in some Tea Party discourse -- and a recent statistical analysis of poll results from 2010 showed a high degree of correlation between Tea Party support and white racial resentment. But just to be clear, there's nothing of the sort going on in your book. It's as if you are trying to raise the tone a little bit. Is that fair? Is it any part of your intention? Isn't the book more about what the Tea Party can be or should be, from your perspective, rather than what it is?
A: I did not want to write a book about individual Tea Partiers (as many books have already done, some well, some not so well). Instead, I wanted to write a book about the constitutional principles that define the movement as a movement. My goal was to have a substantive discourse about these principles -- to offer, if you will, an intellectual defense of the Tea Party movement.
I downplay the culture war aspect because the Tea Party itself downplays it. It is a conservative movement, true, but conservative in the sense of fiscal and constitutional conservatism, not social conservatism. You don't attend Tea Party events and hear any serious discussion about abortion or gay marriage. Polling data confirms this, revealing that a majority of Tea Partiers support the legal availability of abortion, as well as gay marriage or civil union. So I don't think it would be factually accurate to try to paint the Tea Party movement as a socially conservative movement. There are undoubtedly some social conservatives within the movement, but this is inevitable, given that some social conservatives are also fiscal and constitutional conservatives.
Following a major e-textbook pilot last year, the California State University System announced Wednesday that it has cut a deal with Cengage Learning that could give students steep discounts on that publisher's e-textbooks. “Beginning in the fall, students will have the choice to rent digital versions of [Cengage] texts… at a cost savings of 60 percent or more compared with the cost of purchasing the same text as a new printed version,” the Cal State system office said in a release. Students who want to benefit from the discount but still prefer to read ink on paper will be allowed to print out the pages, according to the release.
Importantly to faculty groups, the university does not plan to mandate that professors adopt e-textbooks. Cengage is not requiring that California State promise a certain number of professor adoptions or student purchases as a condition of the discounts, according to Bill Rieders, executive vice president of global strategy and business development for Cengage. (Publishers, perennially undercut by a booming secondary market for used copies of their printed textbooks, have for years been pushing universities and their constituents to adopt electronic versions that cannot be resold.) For now, the 60-percent discount will only apply to e-texts — not the digital homework tools and other learning applications that Cengage and its fellow publishers see as the future of their products. The company’s hope is that the uptake of Cengage’s digital texts will happen organically as a result of lower prices and better availability, Rieders said. California State is planning a campaign to “increase awareness” of the discounted Cengage e-textbooks on its 23 campuses, according to a system spokesman.
In November, Pew Research Center released a report discussing the level of belief in American exceptionalism in the United States. It gauged this by asking whether interviewees accepted the statement "Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others." I have been interested in the history of theories of American exceptionalism for more than twenty years, and gave it a look. Formulating the idea that way struck me as obnoxious and fairly absurd. But then the Pew people are specialists in public opinion research -- and feelings of superiority (or rather, anxieties over it) do seem to be what is at stake as the expression American exceptionalism is used in U.S. politics lately. (It's worth noting that it's the authors of the report who make a connection between superiority and exceptionalism. The interviewers didn't explicitly ask about the latter.)
Republican candidates keep proclaiming their faith in American exceptionalism, or smiting Obama for his failure to believe in it. Not long ago somebody published a letter to the editor claiming that Obama hates American exceptionalism, which would seem to imply that he must believe in it, since hating something you don’t believe in sounds difficult and a real waste of time. But it’s probably best not to expect too much logical consistency at this point in the electoral season.
Obama himself is at least somewhat culpable for the whole situation. The furor all started in 2009 when, in response to a question, he said: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” That, too, is a misreading of the term, equating it with something like national-self esteem. But of a healthy sort -- well shy of narcissistic grandiosity, with plenty to go around. That's probably what got him into trouble.
Anyway, the Pew study yielded some interesting results. Pew's researchers have been asking whether people agreed with the sentiment "Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others" for at least 10 years now. In 2002, 60 percent of the Americans polled said they did. The figure fell to 55 percent in 2007. Last year, just 49 percent of respondents agreed, with nearly as many (46 percent) saying they disagreed. “Belief in cultural superiority has declined among Americans across age, gender and education groups,” the Pew report said.
The same question was posed in surveys conducted in Britain, France, Germany, and Spain. The level of agreement was higher in the U.S, than elsewhere (Germany and Spain were fairly close) but the variations are less interesting than what held constant: “In the four Western European countries and in the U.S., those who did not graduate from college are more likely than those who did to agree that their culture is superior, even if their people are not perfect.”
Make of that what you will. For my part, the really odd thing about all the recent endorsements of American exceptionalism is that the very expression came into the world as the name for a Communist heresy.
The image of America as a city upon a hill -- uniquely favored by the Almighty and a light unto the heathens -- is older than the United States itself, of course. And it’s true that visitors to the country, including Alexis de Tocqueville, have long declared it “exceptional,” in one way or another, and not always for the better. Charles Dickens thought we were exceptionally prone to printing his books without permission, let alone paying him royalties. But the term "American exceptionalism" is more recent, and it took the Comintern to launch the Republican candidates' preferred way of recommending themselves these days.
Circa 1927-28, a group of American Communist Party leaders began arguing that, yes, the U.S. economy would undoubtedly succumb to the contradictions of capitalism, sooner or later, but it still had plenty of life in it yet, so the comrades abroad should keep that in mind, at least for a while. Their perspective was in accord with the ideas of the Bolshevik theorist Nicholai Bukharin concerning the world economic situation, and he was the one, after all, in charge of the Communist International. So all was copacetic, at least until the summer of 1928, when Stalin quit taking Bukharin’s phone calls.
Before long, the American leaders were called on the carpet by the authorities in Moscow, and found themselves denounced by Stalin himself for an ideological deviation: "American exceptionalism.” Stalin also told them, "When you get back to America, nobody will stay with you except your wives." That turned out to be a slight exaggeration, but they were promptly expelled from the party when they got back home -- taking around a thousand fellow American exceptionalists with them.
As it happened, all of this was just a few months before the stock market crash on Black Tuesday, which made the whole debate seem rather moot. But a catchphrase was born. Stalin’s speeches blasting American exceptionalism were printed as a pamphlet in an enormous edition. The pro-American exceptionalism Communists went off to start their own group, which had a strange and complex history that deserves better scholarship than it has received. But that seems like enough esoterica for now.
David Levering Lewis puts the neologism into a wider context with his essay “Exceptionalism's Exceptions: The Changing American Narrative,” in the new issue of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ journal Daedelus. Levering, now a professor of history at New York University, received one Pulitzer Prize each for the two volumes of his biography of W.E.B. Du Bois.
“[I]ts Soviet originators defined American exceptionalism as the colossal historical fallacy that imagined itself exempt from the iron laws of economic determinism,” Levering writes, “whereas most American academics and public intellectuals … avidly embraced a phrase they regarded as an inspired encapsulation of 160 years of impeccable national history.” One of the handful of figures to give the idea a careful, skeptical examination, Levering says, was Du Bois. In his masterpiece Black Reconstruction (1935), he wrote that “two theories of the future of America clashed and blended just after the Civil War.” One was “abolition-democracy based on freedom, intelligence, and power for all men,” and the other was “a new industrial philosophy” with “a vision not of work but of wealth; not of planned accomplishment, but of power.”
American exceptionalism was, in effect, the happy belief that these tendencies reinforced each other. That was not a credible idea for an African-American who received his Ph.D. from Harvard one year before the Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson that endorsed “separate but equal” treatment of the races. For Du Bois, writes Levering, “the cant of exceptionalism survived mainly to keep the Moloch of laissez-faire on life support even as its vital signs failed in the wake of the Great Crash of 1929.”
The doctrine of exceptionalism proved hardier than Du Bois imagined, as the years following World War II showed. Levering mentions that Henry Luce “had already given the world its peacetime marching orders in ‘The American Century,’ a signature 1941 editorial in Life.” Eight other contributors, most of them historians, join Andrew J. Bacevich in assessing that line of march in The Short American Century: A Postmortem (Harvard University Press), a collection of essays spinning off from a lecture series Bacevich organized at Boston University in 2009-2010.
“By the time the seventieth anniversary of Luce’s famous essay rolled around in 2011,” the editor writes, “the gap between what he had summoned Americans to do back in 1941 and what they were actually willing or able to do had become unbridgeable.” Unfortunately the editorial is not reprinted, and it loses something in paraphrase -- a bracing tone of stern moral uplift, perhaps, inherited from his parents, who had been missionaries in China. Here’s a sample:
“[W]hereas their nation became in the 20th Century the most powerful and the most vital nation in the world, nevertheless Americans were unable [after World War One] to accommodate themselves spiritually and practically to that fact. Hence they have failed to play their part as a world power -- a failure which has had disastrous consequences for themselves and for all mankind. And the cure is this: to accept wholeheartedly our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation in the world and in consequence to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit.”
And plenty more where that came from. “When first unveiled,” Bacevich notes, “Luce’s concept of an American Century amounted to little more than the venting of an overwrought publishing tycoon.” By the end of the war, that had changed: “Claims that in 1941 sounded grandiose became after 1945 unexceptionable.” The American Century brought “plentiful jobs, proliferating leisure activities, cheap energy readily available from domestic sources, and a cornucopia of consumer goods, almost all of them bearing the label ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ ” And all of it while, in Luce’s words, “exert[ing] upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit.”
Well, and how did that turn out? The contributors are not of one mind. “As international regimes go, much of the American Century, despite the chronic tensions and occasional blunders of the Cold War (and especially the tragedy of Vietnam) was on the whole a laudably successful affair,” writes David M. Kennedy. For Emily S. Rosenberg, “the period of maximum U.S. power and influence” was “a precursor to a global Consumer Century” that “proved highly adaptive to local cultural variation,” so that equating globalization with Americanization is a misnomer.
In counterpoint, Walter LaFeber rebukes Luce’s vision all along the line. He writes that the American Century “never existed except as an illusion, but an illusion to which Americans, in their repeated willingness to ignore history, fell prey.”
T. J Jackson Lears writes in praise of a “pragmatic realism” informed by the pluralism of William James and Randolph Bourne, and says it “requires a sense of proportionality between means and ends, as well as a careful consideration of consequences – above all, the certain, bloody consequences of war.” But his essay does not exactly portray the American Century as a triumph of pragmatic realism. (C. Wright Mills’s description of the nuclear war strategists’ “crackpot realism” seems a little more apropos.)
Bacevich’s essay concluding the book brings us up the moment by stressing how interconnected the American Century and American exceptionalism have become. “To liken the United States to any other country (Israel possibly excepted) is to defile a central tenet of the American civil religion. In national politics, it is simply impermissible.” Luce’s vision “encapsulate[es] an era about which some (although by no means all) Americans might wax nostalgic, a time, real or imagined, of common purpose, common values, and shared sacrifice.”
Such yearning is understandable, but nostalgia is bad for you: it makes the past seem simpler than it was. And the world has probably had as much exceptionalism as it can stand. As the American psychologist Harry Stack Sullivan put it, we are all much more simply human than anything else. And it seems like there must be a better use of a political figure's time than assuring people that they are all above average.