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1.0 out of 5 stars "Movements need metaphors," and Vanity Presses, April 10, 2011
This review is from: The Agnostic Age: Law, Religion, and the Constitution (Hardcover)
Wowee!! I need to augment this review. I need to post something that contains in it, a clever way of taking what I wrote seriously by NOT taking it seriously. Oh, these reactionaries are so smart. The point they make is that Amazon reviewing is such a consuming passion, imaging me in some archetypal pajamas of blogdom, that such both refutes any point to made about the book negatively, and yet confirms it, since they actually wrote about this on a website called Prawfsblawg. The funny thing about their self-flattery, is that this appeared close two years ago, and I never noticed it. I guess I will have to don those pajamas more often to obsess about pettifogging Catholic theorists! Only by chance did I see it today. I have been too busy with serious thinkin' to notice. The hilarious part is that mere Amazon flotsam is important to these folks that they devote their own blopg posts to them. There is some potential sociological meaning in this. But don't expect these guys to figure it out. They are too busy trying to find a way to be hip (with material about Agnosticism) and yet have a Sunday School view of religiosity. Here's what they wrote:

"THURSDAY, MAY 12, 2011

Self-Promotion and Anti-Self-Promotion
Given all the discussion (sometimes interesting but mostly fruitless) about self-promotion of one's work on blogs, I thought I would offer one broader thought and one self-sacrificial offering.

First, I was interested by a claim by one of the commenters that one doesn't open the New York Times op-ed page to read someone engaging in self-promotion; one opens it to read interesting new ideas. This is a misconception. (And I don't mean that the ideas in New York Times op-eds are rarely new or interesting, although that is true.) Most New York Times op-ed pieces are an effort at self-promotion. It's no accident that the cutline at the bottom generally says something like, "X is the author of the forthcoming book Y." One of the most frequent pieces of advice book authors give is to find a way to shoehorn the topic of their book into some current event and make an op-ed piece out of it, especially for the Times.

And this leads to a broader point, which has to do with the legal academy's (and perhaps the broader academy's) conflicted relationship to issues of social class and status, levels of prestige, and self-promotion. Some of the comments on this discussion that were critical of self-promotion by bloggers took the underlying view that it just isn't seemly. But the more elite and well-connected one is, the easier it is to engage in quiet self-promotion, or to have others promote one's work, in a way that seems "seemly." If Linda Greenhouse puts out a book, and mentions it in her online Times column, and writes a book review for the Times that mentions it, and has the book promoted by famous friends, and has Yale devote a conference to it, I think at least some of the commenters who complained about self-promotion on this blog would have little to say about it. Those things tend to have the air of simple recognition of merit by those in the know. When bloggers self-promote, however, the ambition is much more naked. There is a greater Sammy Glick element to it (by way of explanation--and self-promotion--see my Connecticut Law Review Online piece about gatekeeping and prestige, available on my SSRN page). So one reason people may find nothing objectionable about one form of self-promotion, and queasier about the other, is simply a kind of built-in snob factor related to broader ideas about how things are "done" in our world. I happen to think some forms of self-promotion can indeed be tedious and a little tacky. But (and just to be a little controversial, I say this speaking as a Jew) I don't think we should overvalue "seemliness" or fail to see its hidden ambitions and reifying effects, or that we should undervalue a little "tackiness."

Now for the self-sacrificial aspect. I thought that I would promote my book The Agnostic Age: Law, Religion, and the Constitution, again, by linking to the Amazon page for the book, and pointing out my sole review so far -- which is a highly negative one-star review. How's that for anti-self-promotion! I note in slight self-defense that the first two-thirds of the review or so are critical of a different article I wrote that has nothing to do with the book, and that I disagree with the last third. Still, it is fair to say this reviewer is not a fan of The Agnostic Age. (As always with such maneuvers, however, I have a separate motive, which is that if anyone out there liked the book more than this fellow and perhaps is more fair-minded, perhaps they could contribute their own review. I would like to have posted a response, but for some reason I think I should let the book be praised or criticized by its readers without stepping in to defend myself.)

Posted by Paul Horwitz on May 12, 2011 at 11:20 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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On the Amazon review, I'd note that, with perhaps one exception that I know of, I'm not very inclined to take the word of someone who has written 340+ reviews on Amazon very strongly. It seems like a strong indication of not having anything good to do w/ one's time. And, while I like much of Charles Taylor's work pretty well, they guy is more than a bit over the top, about the "superbly brilliant" Charles Taylor, who wrote an "almost unbelievably brilliant book", a book that exhibited "breath-taking anatomization". So, while I think there's good reason to think this review was not written by Charles Taylor's mom, any other explanation should certainly make us doubt it's authority.

Posted by: Matt | May 12, 2011 1:33:11 PM

Paul, you left out the best part! The reviewer is engaging in self-promotion. Here's what's on Amazon, with links in the original:

"Movements need metaphors," and Vanity Presses, April 10, 2011
By Peter P. Fuchs (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews (REAL NAME)"

And by giving you only one star (rather than two), he makes it more likely that he'll be read, even if your friends, family & random readers weigh in and up your average.

Best of luck with the book. You'd better promote it, because as every academic press author knows, the press usually doesn't do much.

Posted by: Mary Dudziak | May 12, 2011 7:21:30 PM

As an agnostic leaning towards (but keeping my fingers crossed) atheism, it has been to the credit of both groups that they do not, generally, proselytize in the manner of some religious groups. Spreading the word with books like this is informative, not proselytizing. So let's get the word out there. Amen.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | May 12, 2011 11:34:31 PM

The comments to this entry are closed."

Here's the old review:

Ca-Ching! Apparently, from what I hear, these are heady times at some University presses. A great new source of revenue has come to the rescue, like a Deus ex Machina, to supplant the loss of revenues from diminishing library budgets. It works so well, it almost doesn't matter that the volume will not be much purchased by institutions, or God forbid, actually read by someone. The Deus ex Machina is the wealthy contributor with a point of view he wants bolstered, and the alignment-of-gears to see that it does get published. That is surely the only reason this retread is getting put into print. When you have an author whose contribution to understanding of the great achievement of the Western Enlightenment -- the separation of church and state -- has been heretofore a revival of a Calvinist doctrine of "Sphere Sovereignty", you know what you are likely dealing with . One might wonder as a prima facie matter how deductions from a religious tradition, Calvinism, not known for the greatest understanding of the issue should be the focus of a revival no less. But this is precisely where the clever intellectual is adept, and it fits so well with a viewpoint of some Daddy Warbucks somewhere. But according to the author in another venue, "Movements need metaphors" and it is for a "movement" and not for disinterested legal parsing that his whole background notion in "Sphere Sovereignty" has been developed. One can only thank the author for his candidness of intent in bald polemics, as "Movement needs metaphors" makes one ready to ingest some manifesto.

But thanks to a sharp analyst, one Luis Miguel Dickson, we don't need to even tarry much on the potential, yet theoretically possible importance of this notion, so unlikely to be helpful on the face of it. For Dickson has previously given, to my mind, the quashing, pragmatic rebuke to the whole idea of what Horwitz is trying to do:

"Insofar as Horwitz gives applications of his metaphors to legal struggles in the church-state arena, it is more than suggestive that these examples tends towards protecting the church from legal intervention with rationales which sound suspiciously like those once proffered by the state itself [!], once the main enforcer of 'separate spheres' in discriminating against and disempowering woman and blacks. [...and one might add, still gay people.] "

I think this observation brilliantly indicates just how clearly the main sphere for Horwitz's reflection are likely to be primarily in the "sphere" of self-serving for himself and those money-bags interests his views might be useful for.

Lastly, one must reflect on the case of the superbly brilliant Charles Taylor and his almost unbelievably brilliant book The Secular Age, part of Horwitz's conceptual background, and the similar sad fate of many brilliant books. Indeed, to be used for opportunistic reasons is the sad fate of many a brilliant book. It always involves avoiding the cumulative point of the book and using skeins, so necessary to making the original massive point, but easily misunderstood. Well, the title of this book, The Agnostic Age, so obviously a knock-off of Taylor's breath-taking anatomization of The Secular Age, tells us from the start that Horwitz has utterly misunderstood the point of Taylor's book. Though snippets from Taylor's book might well be used to support the possibility of whatever the heck Horwitz wants to confect as an Agnostic Age, the totality argues against it. So much so, that one might say that is the whole point. The beholden nature of legal ideas and rights to the Christian tradition, is in Taylor's genius seen as informative and supportive of the very veracity of Enlightenment ideals. Down to the very notions and phenomena of sociability that underlie them. Such that, a "Secular Age" could exist, and does, while an "Agnostic Age" could not, even imaginatively as Horwitz proposes. This is simply the cumulative point of Taylor's book, even while he has parsed aspects of an agnostic approach in the modern era. But opportunists see in Taylor's complicated Ideensgeschischte a host of detachable moments that might support their essentially crypto-theocratic notions by way of a safely neutered and therefore useful notion of "agnosticism". While Taylor's point is the opposite: it is not detachable. The Secular Age is a child of our Christian historical culture, but so changed, and many like myself would say "improved", that it destroys the very possibility of the old encapsulations of the same. And another word for encapsulation would be "sphere".
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Showing 1-10 of 22 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 12, 2011 5:38:23 PM PDT
D. Levin says:
What a breathtakingly incoherent review. Mr. Fuchs has made a signal contribution to the science of gibberish. And I very much doubt that Oxford UP is viewing this as a major money maker - that's what textbooks are for.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 15, 2011 8:55:12 AM PDT
I suppose to Mr. Levin "economies of scale" are gibberish. How convenient for the corrupt in the academic world who take advantage of them. Also, you seem behind the times: textbooks are not nearly as profitable as they used to be precisely because -- duh! -- of online sites which sell them more cheaply. So the economy of scale for a little piece of hackwork like this devolves around the fact that it doesn't cost much to produce, and thus is a good deal for daddy-warbucks in his hobby as bankroller for the culture war. The author is happy to be connected with the "prestigious" University press and get peanuts, and the University press is happy to make money off the Press' name, by publishing something their "donor" wants published. And whatever tarnish they bring to their image, is certainly worth a big wad of dough.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 6, 2011 7:01:08 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 6, 2011 7:17:13 AM PDT
A SECULAR AGE is published by Harvard UP; this book is published by Oxford UP. There might be a difference in quality between the two books, but they are both obviously scholarly works getting the usual scholarly treatment. Can Peter Fuchs give any details (like telling who the wealthy donor is who finances this book, and what department of OUP deals with wealthy donors) to distinguish the two books' ways of reaching the public? And how is this book crypto-theocratic? Just one quoted crypto-theocratic sentence might make the concept clear, but I don't see any.

Coherence really would help.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 6, 2011 2:05:11 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 11, 2011 11:46:48 AM PDT
James M. Rawley's views of how Anglo-American academia operates these days appears to be in a woefully uninformed state.

Although conservative demonology seems frozen in about 1970, or so; their caricature of frizzy-haired profs, tripping on LSD, and making bombs in the basement--to the extent not grossly exaggerated--is wa-a-a-y out-of-date. These days, your average junior faculty member is more concerned with more quotidian concerns, viz: Will I get enough students enrolling in my sections so that I will be paid enough to purchase some health insurance? (Tenure, along with benefits and annual salaries are now practically things of the past.) Will I be trying to cram the elements into the skulls of freshmen--who seem to be more ignorant and unprepared with each passing year--when I reach ninety years of age, since it will take that long for my portfolio with TIAA-CREF to recover? etcetera.

In days of old, college administrators used to approach wealthy individuals and foundations with tactful requests for money, appealing to humanitarian and philanthropic instincts, and perhaps mixing in an appeal to vanity--e.g., offering to name a building or facility after a generous benefactor. Nowadays, the tables have turned. Tutored by conservative intellectuals (perhaps 'idea brokers' is a better term), such as Irving Kristol, Lewis Powell (a courtly corporate lawyer, later placed on the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon), and William E. Simon (a millionaire Treasury Secretary for a short time during the presidency of Gerald Ford); millionaires not only began attaching strings; they began demanding--and getting--quid pro quo.

These developments were somewhat paralleled in the UK, where during the 1980's, Mrs. Thatcher--with her usual finesse--took a meat-ax to funding for British colleges and universities. While this led to a hejira of British academics to the U.S. (it's an ill wind that doesn't blow someone some good!), they naturally could not bring their institutions with them. These and their various offshoots (such as OUP) were left extremely hard up, and thus amenable to influence; i.e., cash.

As intelligence officers from East and West know; anything so crude as naked bribery would offend the intended recipient. Instead, you must cultivate them, offer small presents at first (banquets and dinners can go a long way--especially for young profs and grad students who can scarcely afford to eat at "Wimpy's"--the British equivalent of "Mc Donald's"--or at least it was), and veil larger tranches of cash behind innocuous-seeming foundations (e.g., Templeton), various 'cut-outs', such as setting up 'endowed chairs' (something like 'The Tomas de Torquemada Chair of Systematic Theology', or the 'Charles Maurras Chair of Clerico-Fascist Political Economy' ), and by offering to pay for, up-front, entire press runs of negligible, pseudo-scholarly books at an inflated mark-up. The only thing different about religious conservatives is that they were later getting into this game than anti-communists (who learned communist tactics a little too well) and economic conservatives (who, surprisingly, agree with the now-old New Left that there is no such thing as 'disinterested' scholarship--or disinterested anything).

Only the naive (or those who pretend naivete) are unaware of these tricks-of-the-trade.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 7, 2011 1:21:18 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 7, 2011 1:54:51 AM PDT
Okay. Continue educating me. How does the present reviewer know, given that BOTH the Harvard UP book he likes and the Oxford UP book he doesn't like were published in the half-criminal (I suppose I should say crypto-criminal) way you describe, -- how does the reviewer know that the Harvard fraud is excellent, while the Oxford fraud is merely fraudulent?

You yourself, Owen Hatteras, say all this fraud/crime is going on among scholars. Are the scholars, as scholars, reliable, then? (I might prove that most soldiers in Vietnam smoked marijuana and leave untouched the question of whether or not they were courageous, as older, drunken soldiers often were. --- The Anchor Bible has plainly been financed by people who think study of the Bible is important; does that prove its scholarship is negligible?)

If both the Harvard UP scholar and the Oxford UP scholar are hired guns seeking to prove some rich person's thesis, how did the rich person get so scholarly? Neither of these two books seems to be at the simple-minded level of global warming affirmation or denial -- and I really can't imagine wealthy people with axes to grind seriously concerning themselves with whether the modern era is SECULAR or AGNOSTIC. As for saying the first word (secular) is spot-on deep and honest, while the second (agnostic) is negligible and pseudo-scholarly -- I can't wrap my mind around that at all.

Right here on the Amazon site is a favorable notice from Stanley Fish. Is he so discontented with his present level of wealth that he will risk all by saying a negligible pseudo-scholarly book is good? Is the conspiracy so widespread that any book on EITHER side of a discussion will 1) be negligible and 2) get favorable reviews by established scholars without any fear of exposure? So that a Trotskyite and a Nazi, both of whom can't even spell, are guaranteed publication and good notices from every scholar no matter where on the political spectrum that scholar stands, just as long as somebody else pays Oxford or Harvard money?

Or does the reviewer's and your shared thesis require a little more polishing to lift it out of the conspiracy theory realm?

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 7, 2011 10:01:43 PM PDT
I absolutely love this discussion! Once again, Owen Hatteras does a better job than I can do, and I swear on all that is holy that I have no idea who he is, and have no connection with him. Except for the basic fact that "great minds think alike". I can only add to this discussion the basic fact of deadpan assessments of quality, which used to be common when I was young, but now are lost in a maelstrom of feints to niceness and fairness, whatever the h that means given that life ain't ever fair. Thus, and to wit, that Mr. Rawley would even mention this execrable volume in the same breath as Charles Taylor's is just risible. The simple answer, which lies fallow in Rawley's own assumptions, is that it is not clear at all that most of what University Presses produce is of any value whatsoever. That something brilliant like Charles Taylor's work squeaks through is not an assurance of general quality, but an indictment. But as always in life, there is a hierarchy of badness too, and this volume is very low even in that estimation. Of course, Mr. Rawley, everything in life is on the food chain in some way, but if the goal is clarity, as it should be in scholarship, then sucking directly on the tit of reactionary right-wingery is yet the trough -level of existence, even if it has a glamorous name in front of it. Owen really made me laugh with his "Tomas de Torquemada chair of Systematic Theology." But the more likely and telling one would be the plain old associate professor at Ave Maria University funded at one time by a pizza magnate, who suddenly gets a book published by Oxford University.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 7, 2011 10:58:25 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 8, 2011 12:08:52 AM PDT
It is not clear that most of what university presses produce is of any value; it is not clear that most lives are of any value; it is not clear that the universe is of any value. These statements do not constitute a book review.

Your comments amount to "This book is no good because I say so. Now the only argument I must answer is that it must be good because a university press published it. I answer that argument by saying that university presses are no good because I say so."

Meanwhile you are amazed that on Amazon, the best place in the world to find anti-academic arguments of all sorts, there is someone else who agrees that university presses are no good if he says so. Go to the review section for THE GREAT GATSBY and you will find fifty one-star reviews saying it is only popular because lying teachers force students to read it. Yours and theirs are the typical Amazon one-star anti-academic review -- and you're surprised that you find a friend here!

Meanwhile you literally haven't begun to discuss THE AGNOSTIC AGE itself. You have not quoted one sentence or summarized one argument from it. You prefer the word SECULAR to the word AGNOSTIC. That's all I know.

By the way, I'm reading A SECULAR AGE on your recommendation and enjoying it very much.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 8, 2011 2:33:53 PM PDT
Oh, let it come from another's mouth then, one Marc DeGirolami in the New Republic:

"How refreshing, then, to see an entirely different kind of book in The Agnostic Age, by constitutional scholar Paul Horwitz. Horwitz writes convincingly that the prevailing academic approach to law and religion, in which abstractions like equality and neutrality are taken as foundational touchstones for resolving religious liberty conflicts, has led to a stale and unedifying impasse. There were impeccable historical reasons for theorists of religious liberty to assiduously keep their distance from the black dragon of religious truth. Centuries of war and blood-soaked religious persecution are evidence enough. But the "liberal consensus"-one of whose primary tenets is that the state ought to remain resolutely neutral on the nature of the good and the true, and certainly on the question of religious truth-shows signs of strain from without and within. From without, religious people have for some time complained that the naked public square short-circuits any place for religion in public life. From within, assorted nonbelievers charge that liberal neutrality displays a pusillanimous incapacity to destroy what Voltaire knew needed destroying-écrasez l'infâme!

The problem, says Horwitz, is that contemporary intellectual thought about the value of religion-and therefore of religious freedom-is chained to the delusion that it can continue to proceed entirely from value-neutral assumptions. The liberal consensus is fraying, perhaps even fragmenting, because religious freedom, if it continues to enjoy constitutional protection, must be valuable for some reason-a reason that cannot be discerned without poking the dragon, at least a little. Yet this book is no exercise in descrying, let alone (heaven save us) declaring, religious truth itself. It is an attempt to describe a more agreeable, curious orientation to questions of religious truth-a provisional commitment neither to religious truth nor to its falsity, but a genial receptivity to religion's assertions of the true.

What form, then, would a theory of religious liberty take which took seriously-which truly invested itself in-religion's claims to truth?"

So, we get to take religion as central again, which is wanted anyways, and he does it by pulling a rabbit out of an agnostic hat. This is just clever polemics. Polemics for religion. That is his right. But only a fool would not believe that there are not a lot of monied interests who want these clever polemics deployed.

One of the many things that is telling and great about Charles Taylor and the Secular Age is that you CANNOT tell what his personal view of things is by reading the book. Now go apply that to most University Press publications, and answer your own questions.

Posted on Aug 8, 2011 3:04:34 PM PDT
And, lastly, for balance I put up a review of a very good book published by a university press. John McCumber's Time in a Ditch. It has the advantage, too, of showing how philosophy, which used to referee some of these concerns, got side-tracked by McCarthyism. So there is a vaccum that can be taken advantage of, and/or merely reacted to in bizarre ways This, in turns, suggests to me an understanding of how we got to the point we have where books on all sorts of topics, in many fields, are not refereed for quality, but open instead to being chips in some manipulative game of polemics.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 8, 2011 3:47:41 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 11, 2011 11:49:39 AM PDT
By using such words as "fraud/crime", and "conspiracy theory", Mr. Rawley makes plain that he does not grasp the point of my previous posting here.

The corruption of academia by money has proceeded for so long, and become so pervasive, as to have become absolutely routine. This tendency first became marked in the sciences, particularly in medicine and biosciences, where companies now typically dictate what departments shall research--and shall not research. Typically, a drug or medical device, or technique that the donor wishes to promote is favored above other, perhaps competing or less expensive drugs, devices, or techniques. It is not a case of people plotting together in a smoke-filled room--patrons merely issue orders, while clients rush to fulfill them. As of late, however, things HAVE been slipping from the ethically dubious, into the outright fraudulent. A number of instances of fraudulent medical trials have already come to light in recent years, where some researchers, who inevitably have every incentive to fudge the data on efficacy--or even safety--have done so.

Typically, primary data is classified as a proprietary secret, to be perhaps dug out after the fact of unexpected mortality/morbidity by trial lawyers (who are bottom-feeders, I will cheerfully admit, but who now stand as virtually the only thing between many businesses and the public's health and safety.) A fuller discussion of these matters can be found in "The Kept University" by Eyal Press and Jennifer Washburn, which first appeared in the March 2000 issue of "The Atlantic" and can be found on their website. An authorized reprint can be found on, inter alia, the website of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) along with much other material on the same topic. But who pays any attention to such fussbudgets?

Turning from the sciences to other subjects, it is far more difficult to obtain a 'smoking gun'. For the most part, the only thing possible is to go from established facts to inferences from them. 'Ex nihilo nihil fit'--or more colloquially, "not even a dog wags his tail for nothing" is a good adage to bear in mind. Peter F. Fuchs has noted a typical instance involving a previously unremarked scholar and pizza-ologist having his effusion published by a (once-) noted academic press. Further examples of dubious practices could no doubt be furnished; but to what end?

--"None are so blind as they who will not see"--popular paraphrase of Jer 5:21 (KJV)

--"They only trouble with 'tainted' money is, 't ain't enough!"--a joking (at least I hope) academic, now deceased, of my acquaintance.
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