On the essays shelf:
My grandmother had a big illustrated copy of Poor Richard’s Almanac, which I had practically memorized by the time I was 6 years old. The illustrations were goofy and elaborate, and I somehow “got the joke” that so
much of it was a joke, a satire on the do-good-ish bromides of self-serious Puritans who worry about their neighbor’s morality. Obviously I wouldn’t have put it that way at age 6, but I understood that the book in my hands, the huge book, was not serious at all.
Clearly, many others did not get the joke. Benjamin Franklin, throughout his life, was a master at parody and satire, as well as such a master that he is still fooling people! He was his very own The Onion! He presented ridiculous arguments and opinions in a way where people nodded their heads in agreement, and then afterwards wondered uneasily if they were being made fun of. Their uneasiness was warranted. Yes, Benjamin Franklin was making fun of them.
Franklin played such a huge role not only in creating bonding-mechanisms between the colonies – with newspapers, his printing service, the Almanac – but in science and community service (he started the first fire-brigade in Philadelphia on the British model. He opened the first public lending library in the colonies), as well as his writing. He was an Elder Statesman of the relatively young men who made up the Revolution. There were so many of “those guys” who played a hand in the Revolution, but perhaps Benjamin Franklin played the most crucial role in his time as a diplomatic presence in France, where he became so beloved a figure that the French fell in love with him, commemorated him in songs and portraits, putting his mug on plates and cups and platters and buttons – so that in a time when nobody knew really what anybody looked like, Benjamin Franklin was instantly recognizable the world over. Read the rest of this entry »
The Making of Asian America: A History, by Erika Lee, 528 pages, Simon & Schuster, Nonfiction.
Nicolas Gattig reports: In 1922, a Japanese immigrant to the United States named Takao Ozawa applied for citizenship with the U.S. Supreme Court. Having lived in America for almost 30 years, Ozawa was fluent in English and an active Christian, assuring the court that his skin was “white in color” and that he wished to “return the kindness which our Uncle Sam has extended me.” Still, his appeal was denied — naturalization at the time was exclusive to Caucasians.
“Asian-Americans have experienced both the promise of America as well as the racism of America. As we debate what kind of America we want to be in the 21st century — with concerns about immigration policy, racial equality and our ties to the rest of the world — Asian Americans and their long history in the U.S. can inform on these issues.”
— Author Erika Lee
A recurring theme in Erika Lee’s new book “The Making of Asian America: A History” is the humiliations of immigrant life — the “collective burden” of people who have to keep proving they are worthy. With a keen eye for telling quotes, Lee shows the human dimensions of Asian immigration to the U.S., which now spans 23 different groups and makes up 6 percent of the total population. Incidentally, she tells of a nation expanding its identity, of the inclusion of people once vilified.
From the start, Japanese sojourners feature prominently in this history, as the second largest group of Asian immigrants —the bulk being Chinese — during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hailing mostly from Okinawa, Kumamoto, Fukuoka and Hiroshima prefectures, they were mainly young men dodging military service or farmers fleeing the taxation of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) government.
The immigrant dream was soon interrupted. The “gentlemen’s agreement” between the U.S. and Japan was signed in 1908, barring all Japanese laborers from entering the U.S. This spurred illegal immigration via Mexico, and in a quirky aside Lee quotes a letter by a stateside contact named Nakagawa, who advised border-crossers laconically: “Some people go to Nogales. But sometimes they are killed by the natives. So you had better not go that way.”
The book reminds us how hedging the “Yellow Peril” was a part of U.S. immigration policy, culminating in 1924, when “immigration from Asia was banned completely, with the establishment of an ‘Asiatic Barred Zone.’”
“There is widespread condemnation. But there is also a lot of amnesia about WWII incarceration, a lot of misinformation and misremembering. So the lesson still needs to be learned by many, and with great urgency.”
Fitting this theme, two whole chapters here are devoted to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Imperial Army, the “military necessity” allowed for the U.S. government to round up all persons of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast, without due process or proof of wrongdoing. In fact, the measure was unwarranted: reports by the FBI and other offices showed that second-generation Japanese Americans were “pathetically eager” to show their loyalty to the U.S.
“Since the 1980s, American media have been praising the ‘rise of Asian America,’ pointing to Chinese and Indian Americans who enjoy better schooling and salaries than many whites. Still, it is misleading to speak of a ‘model minority.’ A wildly disparate community, Asian Americans also grapple with lower income and high crime rates.”
More than 120,000 Japanese Americans spent the war in camps, many losing their homes and livelihood. About 5,500 internees renounced their U.S. citizenship — becoming “Native American Aliens” — and some of them were deported to Japan. Read the rest of this entry »
A fifth person affiliated with a bookstore that sells books critical of China’s government went missing last week, raising concerns over Hong Kong’s freedoms.
Fiona Law reports: Hong Kong police are investigating the disappearance of the co-owner of a bookstore specializing in works critical of the Chinese government, that has prompted local lawmakers to voice fears that mainland Chinese law-enforcement agencies crossed the border to detain him.
Hong Kong and foreign media have reported that the wife of Lee Bo, a shareholder of Causeway Bay Books, told police on Friday that Mr. Lee had gone missing and that four people who worked for the bookstore or a publisher affiliated with it have gone missing in recent months, including one who disappeared in Thailand.
“It is terrifying,” said Albert Ho, a pro-democracy lawmaker. “So the mainland police can publicly arrest people in Hong Kong?”
On Sunday, a group of lawmakers and activists marched to the central Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, demanding answers about the missing people. Read the rest of this entry »
The philosopher talks to Mick Hume about politics, marriage and Islam.
Mick Hume writes: Ours is an age of intellectual conformism, in which expressing offensive opinions often seems to be deemed the worst offence of all; academia is decreed a ‘safe space’ where ‘uncomfortable’ ideas are banished, and using the wrong word can see you accused of committing a ‘microaggression’. And you are supposed to apologise at the first sign of a wagging finger.
“When I was in Paris in ’68 I became indignant at the total ignorance of the people who tried to tell me that this revolution was something important. I couldn’t argue with them about the thing that really mattered to me, culture. To them that was just ‘bourgeois’. This word bourgeois really got up my nose.”
Roger Scruton apparently didn’t get the memo. During our conversation, the conservative philosopher gently but unapologetically delivered blunt and cutting opinions on subjects ranging from Slavoj Zizek to Jeremy Corbyn, from banning the veil to Islamist terrorism, from homosexuality to fox hunting. Whatever anybody thinks of his views, they should surely endorse his aversion to the ‘radical censorship of anything that disturbs people’ and his insistence that the controversial ‘needs to be discussed’ rather than continually ‘pushed under the carpet’.
“I decided, yes, of course there is such a thing as the bourgeoisie and you are it, these well-fed, pampered middle-class students whose one concern was to throw stones at working-class people who happened to be in a policeman’s uniform.’”
Now 71, Scruton has been the bête noire of British left intellectuals for more than 30 years, and gives them another beastly mauling in his new book Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left. It is a tour de force that, the introduction concedes, is ‘not a word-mincing book’, but rather ‘a provocation’. In just under 300 pages he Scruton-izes a collection of stars, past and present, of the radical Western intelligentsia – the likes of Eric Hobsbawm and EP Thompson in Britain, JK Galbraith and Ronald Dworkin in the US, Jurgen Habermas, Louis Althusser, Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze in Europe. An expanded and updated version of his controversial Thinkers of the New Left(1985), the book ends with a new chapter entitled ‘The kraken wakes’ dealing with the ‘mad incantations’ of Alan Badiou and the left’s marginally newer academic celebrity, the Slovenian Zizek.
The slightly pained look on his face suggests that I am not the first to ask Scruton why he has devoted a book to taking on a collection of largely declining or deceased intellectuals and a culture that he concedes ‘now survives largely in its academic redoubts’. ‘They may seem like obscure intellectuals to the man in the street but actually they are still dominant on the humanities curriculum’, he explains. ‘If you study English or French, even musicology or whatever, you have to swallow a whole load of Lacan and Deleuze. Take Deleuze’s book, A Thousand Plateaus – the English translation has only been out a few years, but it’s already gone through 11 printings. A huge, totally unreadable tome by somebody who can’t write French.’
“Defending academic freedom against the forces of conformity matters to Scruton because ‘My life began, insofar as it had a beginning, in the university. That’s where I grew up, and I love my subject, philosophy, love the whole idea of the academic and scholarly life, that one has a place apart where people are pursuing the truth and communicating that to people who are eager to learn it.”
‘Yet this is core curriculum throughout the humanities in American and English universities. Why? The one sole reason is it’s on the left. There is nothing that anybody can translate into lucid prose, but for that very reason, it seems like a suit of armour around the age-old prejudices against power and authority, the old unshaped and unshapeable agenda.’
“‘And this thing has completely destroyed the intellectual life.’ He considers these leftists prime culprits in what might be called the closing of the university mind, though ‘whether they caused the closing of the mind or are the effect of it is another matter’.”
Defending academic freedom against the forces of conformity matters to Scruton because ‘My life began, insofar as it had a beginning, in the university. That’s where I grew up, and I love my subject, philosophy, love the whole idea of the academic and scholarly life, that one has a place apart where people are pursuing the truth and communicating that to people who are eager to learn it.
And this thing has completely destroyed the intellectual life.’ He considers these leftists prime culprits in what might be called the closing of the university mind, though ‘whether they caused the closing of the mind or are the effect of it is another matter’.
“Scruton’s powerful aversion to ‘the French gurus of ’68 and their jargon-ridden prose’ dates from that student revolt in Paris in 1968. It gave birth to a generation of radical thinkers, and, in the process, helped turn at least one young Englishman into a conservative.”
Scruton’s powerful aversion to ‘the French gurus of ’68 and their jargon-ridden prose’ dates from that student revolt in Paris in 1968. It gave birth to a generation of radical thinkers, and, in the process, helped turn at least one young Englishman into a conservative. ‘I was there in Paris and I was indignant at the stupidity of what I observed. I was a normal young person in England, I was brought up in a Labour Party family and as far as I had any views they’d be vaguely on the left.’ His father was a working-class lad from Manchester who became a schoolteacher and moved his family south, where Scruton attended High Wycombe Royal Grammar School, played bass guitar and listened to The Beatles before being expelled shortly after winning a scholarship to Cambridge University. Read the rest of this entry »