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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Apologies and a Bleg

Well, it's been a pretty slow month since the elections as far as blogging is concerned. The Thanksgiving holiday, the big move, a manuscript review, and now finals and designing next semester's classes, have taken up most of my spare time. Fortunately, I see a light at the end of the tunnel; by next week (yeah, I know, famous last words...) I should finally have the time to start getting around to several half-written posts of mine that have been begging for completion for the past few weeks--and, in a couple of cases, the past several months. I've missed Liberalpalooza entirely, but I'm going to follow through with my Berube review anyway, and maybe try to say something about Brink Lindsey's liberaltarians too. But, for today, a bleg.

Over the past few years, I've gotten deeply involved in trying to rethink conservatism, especially in conjunction with various populist and agrarian concerns. I was all set to teach an upper-level class next semester on exactly this topic; I was going to title it, "Politics on the Prairie," and we were going to trace political trends and ideologies in the Midwest and Midsouth (Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, etc.) over the past century, moving from the radical socialist and populist movements of the late 1900s to the red-state Republicanism of today, and consider what the future of white, rural, conservative populism in the Prairie states may be. Unfortunately that class didn't make for a variety of reasons, and so to keep my preparations intact, I merged it with a regular history class on the schedule, History of Kansas. Since this class will need to include a fairly standard historical overview of the state, I'm not going to be able to do as much theoretical reading as I would have liked. Still, I intend to focus the class as much as possible on the history (and future) of these same trends. I've already decided what main texts I'll be assigning (Virgil Dean's John Brown to Bob Dole, Rita Napier's Kansas and the West: New Perspectives, and of course, Thomas Frank's What's The Matter With Kansas?), and I've identified some books that I'm going to be assigning extracts from (Michael Kazin's history of populism and his biography of William Jennings Bryan, Jeffrey Ostler's and Peter Argergsinger's histories of agrarian radicalism, Lawrence Goodwyn's excellent The Populist Moment), but they won't be enough to do what I want to do.

What I'm looking for are good, accessible, hopefully provocative articles or book chapters--whether in history, political science, or political theory--that summarize or advance different arguments about conservatism in the Midwest, about how the Republican and Democratic parties (continuing up to the present day) have either incorporated or rejected rural populism, and about how changes in race, legal and illegal immigration, and American agriculture (much of which are tied together in states like Kansas) have played a part in that incorporation or rejection of conservative and populist themes. It doesn't have to be something specific to Kansas politics, or even the Midwest necessarily; if it points out an important consideration regarding these topics, then I want to see if it's something I can weave into the class.

Let me know what your thoughts are, any and all of you. Perhaps I'll post the syllabus when it's all done. In the meantime, my thanks, and I'll try to get back to all that other stuff soon.


Anonymous said...

I just finished teaching a state and local politics course, where I tried to incorporate some stuff from a rural politics course project I am still working on. I'm familiar with some the books you have listed, and I like them. The only thing I really have to add is Norman Pollack's stuff, though I can't recall how much has to do with Kansas specifically (I think at least some).


Posted by Jeremiah J.

alan said...

I think it is important to survey the ideology of the proto-populists like the various granger organizations and the Farmers Alliance, since they are the bridge between early 20th century populism and liberal republican ideals of the early-to-mid 19th. Lot of material available on this at UMKC.


Posted by Alan Avans

halifax said...

You might want to look at some of the essays in 'Who Owns America?', which was the programmatic sequel to 'I'll Take My Stand'. It contains essays from a more varied group of contributors than the early collection, thought I am unsure if any are specifically connected to the Midwest. You also might consider something by Wes Jackson who runs the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. From a very different angle, the historian John Lukacs has written some essays and a recent book which pointedly criticize the attempted mixing of populism and conservatism.

I would also suggest that you take a look at Oakeshott's essay 'On Being Conservative'. Oakeshott's conservatism owes more to Hume than to Burke and is quite foreign to the American political tradition. I have taught courses on conservatism in the past and I always use Oakeshott's essay as a sort of shock to the American system. Your library might not have it, so here's a link.

(I have also written an essay on Oakeshott's receptions by American conservative intellectuals if you have any interest.)

Finally, this won't necessarily help since it calls into question the terminological coherence of the course, but Elie Kedourie has written some very good essays on conservatism which are collected in The Crossman Confessions.

I'm sorry that I couldn't give you more Midwesterners but good luck with the course.

Posted by Ken M.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Jeremiah, Alan, Ken: thanks very much! I've seen several references to Norman Pollack's work in some of the stuff I've read, Jeremiah, but I've not read anything by him myself; I'll have to check him out. Alan, you're right, it would be a good idea to begin with the roots of populism in various farmer movements and alliances...though unfortunately, I don't know how much of that material I would be able to justify in the context of the course, since I'm not sure early-to-mid 19th-century liberal republican ideas played much of a role in Kansas history itself, the state having such a byproduct of Civil War tensions. Still, perhaps I'll take a journey up to UMKC over the holiday break to do some research before the semester begins (maybe we could meet up there sometime?). And Ken, thanks for reminding my of Who Owns America?: I've been meaning to read that for a while, and now is as good a time as any to get around to it. As for Wes Jackson's Land Institute, I'm actually hoping to arrange a field trip for the class up to Salinas, though that still remains to be worked out.

alan said...

I think I use the term "liberal republican" in the same way that Michael Sandel uses "civic republican", and I probably should have used his term.

At anyrate, I sometimes get the feeling that if one were to simply mouth the ideals that our ancestors espoused, and did so in their words that our contemporary fellows first reaction would be to condemn our "communist" tendencies. LOL.  

Posted by Alan Avans

Anonymous said...

You might take a look at Samuel Francis's work, especially Revolution from the Middle or Beautiful Losers, particularly his discussion in the latter of Middle American Radicals (MARs). His argument, briefly, is that contemporary liberalism (including Republicans of the more traditional sort) represents the interests of the managerial class. So political conservatism in the 80's turned to the alienated middle class as a source of power, by explicitly oppossing the elites (it's not strikingly originial, but he is clearer than most). When I taught a course on conservatism last spring, it was the readings from Francis that crystalized for my students how traditional conservatism turned into the current populist right. Sure fits with the theme you're describing. Also, Francis is himself a conservative, even if he sometimes reads like a sociologist, which helps defuse the suspicions of conservative students about this sort of account of the sources of their own beliefs. 

Posted by Ed Wingenbach

helmut said...

For some philosophical and historical background, check out Thompson and Hilde's The Agrarian Roots of Pragmatism. 

Posted by Helmut

alan said...

Coming to KC are you? Well just let me know when.... 

Posted by Alan Avans

Russell Arben Fox said...

Ed and Helmut, thanks very much! I've heard of Samuel Francis's work before, but have never followed up on any references to it; I'll have to do that now. And the Thompson and Hilde book is completely new to me; sounds like a very interesting take on the topic.

Anonymous said...

Is PrairyErth too flaky for you? I haven't read it, actually, so I shouldn't judge, but the reception seems to have been of a book that didn't fit any category, that people didn't quite know what to make of, that was big and a bit odd. But it might be just the thing to engage undergrads from a different angle. 

Posted by Doug