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Perspectives on Political Science: The McWilliams Issue

The new issue of PPS is out, and it’s devoted to the work of Wilson Carey McWilliams (1933-2005). Carey was the greatest entertainer, as well as one of the most manly, thoughtful, and erudite MEN, in American political science. He called himself a Straussian "fellow traveler" and an old-fashioned Democrat and democrat. He was also an elder in the Presbyterian church (and a genuinely Christian man), and an American patriot who reflected often on the good that was his military service. He was probably the only member of his party left who was both pro-life and thought that our struggle in Vietnam was just and noble. He was emphatically not a liberal. Carey was, as Pat Deneen writes, "modest to a fault," and so he needs his friends to help us remember just how important his quite original, illuminating, and edifying work--writing that is mostly scattered here and there in all sorts of journal and books--is for our self-understanding as friends and citizens.

The contributors to his symposium include Patrick J. Deneen, Paul Seaton, Amitai Etzioni, Michael T. Gibbons, Susan J. McWilliams (Carey’s political theoretical daughter), and me. Susan’s article is called "The Brotherhood of Man(liness)," and Paul’s is on Carey’s recovery of the wisdom of the Puritans--perhaps Carey’s most countercultural project. Let me thank Pat Deneen for editing one of our very best issues ever.

Discussions - 20 Comments

I received my copies a few days ago and reread the articles. The issue really - or almost - does Carey justice. It’s a keeper.
Characteristically, Peter fails to highlight his splendid - insightful and witty - contribution.

Others will know better, but I am not sure about thet "modest to a fault." Carey knew his own powers, intellectual and personal. He wrote a lot. Pieces were scattered: that is, he took pleasure in publishing in obscure journals. Was that modesty, or was it loyalty to friends, wide-ranging interests, and a determination of avoid being misunderstood as a member of any school except his own?

Lawler, send me a copy, please (with bill); my colleagues in the department are unfriendly and unmanly and they don’t share good things and I don’t trust them to share this with me. I liked Carey, delighted in his company, and his words. Want my own copy. I will take special care in reading his daughter’s essay. Thanks.

Peter, It will be done. I’m tempted to say you should send your check directly to me, but the truth is that we’ll glad to get you one for nothing.

Thank you, Peter, for publishing, contributing, and now promoting this issue. Carey was truly one of a kind, and already I’m encountering students who did not know the man, but wish they had, based on things that he wrote. This issue will go some way to ensuring that more people come to know the thought of this truly original and great thinker.

To Steve Thomas, I quite agree that Carey was fully aware of his intellectual powers and that he published more out of loyalty and dedication to his friends than with a thought to future posterity. In writing that he was "modest to a fault," I seek to point out only that he refused either to collect, or allow to be collected, his widely scattered writings, in one or several volumes. In an age in which so many academics publish a book when the back of napkin or a piece of toilet paper would be more fitting, Carey’s writings deserved to be more prominently displayed - not for his own glory, but for the benefit of his readers. Once, when I suggested he collect his writings as one or several books, he replied (with a characteristic twinkle in the eye) "books are fascist, essays are democratic." I’m not sure whether he believed that, but to the end he refused to bring together his corpus where they could be more easily accessed by those who might benefit from his wise counsel.

So, Patrick, you talked me into it (not that you had to work very hard): I eagerly await "The Collected Essays, volumes 1 and following". Festina, frater.

Books are fascist, and essays are democratic. If you write books that are really collections of essays, are you a democratic fascist? But I can see Carey’s point, and I agree that it’s not quite about modesty. He always spoke assertively and with perfect self-confidence. And his manliness did not manifest itself (as it does in the case of the author of MANLINESS) as shyness or being a man of very few words in social settings.

Paul, that’s a very funny story. I have no idea what to make of it. Maybe Carey thought the proposal to collect his essays implied he was dead (a la Twain). Maybe he wanted readers to make the effort hunt the pieces down. Maybe he thought you had better things to do.

I meant Patrick. Sorry.

Apropos to the quip: it is patently false, it indicates (to me) that Carey, like Homer, nodded from time to time; a bit more seriously, I think the quip indicates a blindspot in Carey’s democratic worldview: he nearnigh systematically ignored the aristocratic aspects of the soul and aristocratic character-types - a very democratic thing to do. In fact, the more I think about it, the more preposterous the quip was. How on earth is a book qua book "fascist"?

Peter - I know he liked your books, so maybe that was the right form...

I should mention that it’s a thing he said over bourbon manhattans with a smile on his lips. I don’t know why he didn’t himself collect his essays. I do think that he was modest in this regard - he didn’t think he should engage in self-promotion. At one point I thought I’d lighted on the perfect strategy - persuade Carey that he should publish his essays as a book for the benefit of his students. I got a wary if admiring look for that one...

Paul, this discussion, of course, calls to mind your criticism of my book at the New England conference two Springtime’s ago. I have probably inherited this suspicion of aristocratic megalophsuchia from Carey - if not the aversion to publishing books. I suppose Carey’s answer was that we should endeavor to be aristocrats rightly understood - a la Twain, that we all have music and poetry in our souls; some just get it out better than others. This "aristocratic egalitarianism" begins with a presumption of our fundamental equality, not the uniquely exceptional soul.

Regarding Carey and aristocracy. As an undergraduate, I recall two tasks, suggested by Carey, that were well beyond me at the time. (1) Read de Jouvenel, "On Power"; (2) understand what Carey meant when he referred to himself as a "Tory democrat."

Patrick, thanks for your response (I posted mainly to hear what you had to say; it was also gratifying to hear that you recalled my comments.). I worry that democrats in general, the Democrats in general, and even ’we’re equal because imperfect human beings and therefore brothers and sisters’ democrats, don’t really recognize the various sorts and embodiments of human greatness and don’t factor it/them into their views. Tocqueville, the aristocratic liberal, of course, shared this concern.

May I suggest......that it is in studying under teachers like Carey McWilliams that the non-quantifiable "transformation" promised by the study of the liberal arts can take place (and HAS taken place), which defys understanding by the educrats? Patrick D.: Get the "Collection" published! (*Just* because Paul S. suggested it doesn’t automatically mean it’s a bad idea!) And send the first (several!) copies to the Dept. of Education!

Always an eerie moment when I realize that Paul S. and I have been composing simultaneously on the same thread of the same blog.....2,000 miles apart.

I have no intention of honoring Carey through a dogged adherence to his avoidance of publishing books. Several collections of his essays are being planned - so, stay tuned. Perhaps by Summer 2008, if not sooner, one or several collections will be available for the edification of, among others, the Department of Education... (they may not notice it, however, since it will have no quantifiable data....)

Great news about the collections! In rereading the articles in the Carey-symposium, I was struck (among many things) by quotations from various essays I’ve not read. I look forward to reading the essays in their entirety.
BTW: shouldn’t we acknowledge that Carey did publish one of the largest books in recent memory?

Paul -
I seem to keep discovering new and ever more-obscurely published Carey essays all the time. My main hope and ambition is to make sure that the very best are available as soon as possible. That will still make a pretty large book.

And, yes - Carey did write a great, and very large book. What’s more, it was an abbreviated version of his dissertation! However, he completed it in the 1960s and published it in 1973; given that he had 32 more years of amazing productivity after that date, it is rather startling that he only allowed a collection of his election essays to appear.

I’ve also just re-read the issue, and I’m more pleased than ever. Stay tuned - I’d like to see if we can’t make this the core of a book as well. Thanks again to Peter for making the publication of this terrific issue possible.

Patrick, even you discover more McWilliamsania? Wow. My mind boggles at having the breadth and depth and variety of his mind and pen and voice available.

You’re right to be proud about the quality of the PPS symposium. It is a keeper.

Patrick, good news indeed!

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