Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Steven G. Marks's "The Information Nexus"

Steven G. Marks is Professor of History at Clemson University. He has written books and articles on Russian economic and cultural history, all with a comparative global focus, including How Russia Shaped the Modern World (2003), on the international reception of Russian ideas, and Road to Power (1991), on the creation of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

His new book, The Information Nexus: Global Capitalism from the Renaissance to the Present, is the summation of his thinking on world economic history and the history of capitalism, subjects he has taught for more than twenty years.

Marks applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Information Nexus and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book points to one of its main themes, namely the close relationship between the state and capitalism. Featuring on that page is Dutch leader William of Orange, who became King William III of England in 1688 after overthrowing his wife Mary’s father, King James II. Although the English were already borrowing fiscal innovations from the Dutch, William’s coup sped up the process, deepening the so-called Financial Revolution. Simply put, the Dutch state, followed by the English, turned to the free market to finance their military operations against Louis XIV’s France and to capitalize their quasi-governmental East India companies. The Dutch Republic and the English crown sponsored the bond market and the stock market in order to raise money that governments previously got through the more limited means of taxation or coercive borrowing (frequently followed by default) from wealthy segments of the society. Thus, the state, far from being a hindrance to the capitalist sector, as many advocates of laissez-faire economics believe, was responsible for the vast expansion of these paradigmatic institutions of capitalism.

For the shares market to function properly, a free business press is necessary. Financial newspapers thrived in early modern Holland and England. Meanwhile, the business press was barely functional in Louis XIV’s France due to strict censorship born of the regime’s fear of dissent, and was non-existent in Asia prior to the nineteenth century. That takes us to the book’s main argument, which is that the sole unique feature of capitalism is an intensity of information collection and processing. As opposed to the “cash nexus,” which the Victorians identified with capitalism, I view capitalism as an information nexus, with strong informational flows between producers, consumers, entrepreneurs, and investors that allow for a maximization of economic activity. The implications are 1. that capitalism is more a function of political than economic liberalism; 2. that informational advantages explain the rise of the West in the early modern era; 3. that our current “Information Age” is not as new as most people think; and 4. that in today’s world nations which block information access cannot be considered capitalist and over time will be less innovative than those which facilitate the information nexus.
Learn more about The Information Nexus at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 22, 2016

Barry Hankins's "Woodrow Wilson"

Barry Hankins is Professor of History at Baylor University, as well as a Resident Scholar with the Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR). His publications include Baptists in America: A History and Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: A Documentary Reader. Hankins's biography Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America: Fundamentalist Warrior, Evangelical Prophet was awarded the 2009 John Pollock Award for Christian Biography.

Hankins applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Woodrow Wilson: Ruling Elder, Spiritual President, and reported the following:
In order to stay out of the Texas heat and to do as much fly fishing as possible, I spend my summers splitting time between a rented casita in Taos, NM and my pop-up camper at Elk Creek Campground near the Conejos River in southern Colorado. My wife brought one copy of Woodrow Wilson with us, but we gave it away, so I’m using my pdf page proofs to look at p. 99. There is only the last part of the final paragraph of chapter 5 (“Secularizer”) on that page because the endnotes appear at the close of each chapter, rather than all together at the end of the book. Two-thirds of p. 99, therefore, consists of endnotes.

The chapter I’m concluding on p. 99 covers Wilson’s presidency at Princeton University. This one-third of a page encapsulates the entire argument of the book. Wilson remained a spiritual Christian throughout his life, hence the book’s subtitle “Spiritual President.” In his private life he read the Bible and prayed regularly. He also had a warm, romantic, ongoing experience with God. But for public purposes he essentially redefined Christianity as the onward march of “progress,” which for Wilson, and nearly all early twentieth-century theological liberals (and some evangelicals), meant the spread of American-styled democracy. In both his private and public faith there remained little need for doctrine or theology. Rather, spirituality sufficed in private, and justice in public. Wilson retained the spirituality and devotion to God of his southern Presbyterian youth, while gutting religion of its doctrinal content. What was left was the very common Progressive Era idea that all good work was God’s work. All progress—whether social, political, or even scientific—was a manifestation of Christianity.

As university president, therefore, Wilson secularized Princeton, eliminating all doctrinal and confessional requirements for faculty employment, and removing required Bible courses from the academic curriculum. These were no longer necessary because fine education that prepared students for national service was, in and of itself, a Christian enterprise. Wilson’s inaugural address when he became Princeton’s president in 1902 was a reprise of his keynote speech at the university’s sesquicentennial in 1896—“Princeton in the Nation’s Service.” Matters of faith were moved to the chapel and campus YMCA, as explicit matters of theology and Bible study became merely electives in the curriculum. Princeton no longer existed for the Church; rather for the nation.
Learn more about Woodrow Wilson: Ruling Elder, Spiritual President at the Oxford University Press website.

Writers Read: Barry Hankins.

My Book, The Movie: Woodrow Wilson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 20, 2016

J. Poskanzer, W. Josephson, and N. Katz's "Literary Starbucks"

Jill Poskanzer, Wilson Josephson, and Nora Katz, who met at Carleton College, are the creators of the Literary Starbucks blog.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Literary Starbucks: Fresh-Brewed, Half-Caf, No-Whip Bookish Humor, and reported the following:
We need everyone to know that we’re way too avant-garde to have actual page numbers. Someone had to tell us what’s actually on page 99, because we would have had to count. Page 99 of Literary Starbucks: Fresh-Brewed, Half-Caf, No-Whip Bookish Humor is the second page of Adrienne Rich’s coffee order (a parody of her poem “Diving Into the Wreck”). We think it fails the Page 99 Test—the Rich order is kind of an anomaly in the book. Most of our entries are parodies of author's styles or jokes rooted in the behavioral quirks of characters and authors, and most follow the same outline: someone walks up to the counter and attempts to order; hijinks inevitably ensue. Our “Diving Into the Wreck” parody singles out a specific text and copies its form in a way that many of the others don’t. And unlike the blog, in which each post highlights a separate author or character, the book allows these personas to interact with one another. Page 99 is Rich, all alone. She doesn’t start a duel or a fire or a romantic entanglement, as many of the other patrons do.

Though failing in these respects, the Page 99 Test is a great example of how Literary Starbucks has something for everyone: direct parodies, standalone gags, and pages of interaction between beloved literary personalities. The Adrienne Rich coffee order is close to the middle of the book; it is our quiet rewrite of a beautiful and introspective poem. On either side of it, jokes, surprises, and nostalgia reign. That is what characterizes Literary Starbucks: variety and delight and a good guffaw. We hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it!
Learn more about Literary Starbucks at the publisher's website, and visit the Literary Starbucks blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 19, 2016

Joel Selvin's "Altamont"

Joel Selvin is an award-winning journalist who has covered pop music for the San Francisco Chronicle since 1970. Selvin is the author of many books about popular music, including the bestselling Summer of Love and coauthor, with Sammy Hagar, of the number-one New York Times bestseller, Red.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day, and reported the following:
On page 99 of my Altamont book, Rolling Stones vocalist Mick Jagger is announcing the free concert at a New York City press conference. Kind of pivotal point in the action. I'm not sure what it reveals about the quality of the whole, but it certainly shows the narrative is in full drive by then.

Before I wrote Altamont, I read Eric Larsen's book about the Galveston hurricane. It occurred to me that the story arc of a storm was much like Altamont -- the storm gathers, the storm hits, the people cleanup. At page 99 in my book, the storm is still offshore, but it has scheduled its landing.
Visit Joel Selvin's website.

Writers Read: Joel Selvin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Jason Brennan's "Against Democracy"

Jason Brennan is Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Chair and Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, and formerly Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Research, at Brown University. He is the author of Markets without Limits, with Peter Jaworkski, Compulsory Voting: For and Against, with Lisa Hill, Why Not Capitalism?, Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know, The Ethics of Voting, and, with David Schmidtz, A Brief History of Liberty.

Brennan applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Against Democracy, and reported the following:
From page 99:
…if tomorrow everyone in my country decides they want to interfere with me or subject me to their collective will, my political rights provide me no more protection than a bucket provides against a flood.

Further, it’s unclear why republicans should favor democracy over epistocracy. Epistocracy appears to be compatible with republican liberty. Consider a form of epistocracy in which suffrage is restricted only to citizens who can pass a test of basic political knowledge. Suppose the top 95 percent of citizens pass the exam, but the bottom 5 percent fail. Will this top group of voters thus dominate the others? It seems unlikely. An epistocracy could retain the other “enhancements” republicans favor—deliberative forums, citizens’ courts of appeal, limits on campaign spending, and so on. If these procedural checks and balances would prevent government officials or special interest groups from dominating citizens when everyone is allowed to participate, it is not clear why they would suddenly fail if the most ignorant or misinformed citizens were not allowed to vote. The republican idea is that one enjoys freedom as nondomination when there are sufficient institutional checks in place that prevent anyone from just dominating you at will. But there’s no plausible reason to think your individual right to vote or participate is essential to stopping domination.

Republicans might complain that even in an epistocracy that copied their favored institutions (checks and balances, contestatory deliberative forums, etc.), citizens would lack equal status. But that’s a complaint about equality and status, about the expressive meaning of unequal political rights. It’s not a complaint about freedom or power, and so I put it aside here. I consider these issues at great length in the next chapter.
In chapter 5 of Against Democracy, I’m trying to refute a number of arguments which attempt to show that your right to vote empowers you in some morally significant way. This particular section is a response to the “republican” political theory the philosopher Philip Pettit defends, a theory that has its roots in Cicero and other Roman political philosophers. (The “republicanism” referred to here has nothing to do with the Republican party, by the way.)

Pettit proposes a new conception of liberty, which he calls “liberty as non-domination”. On this conception, to be free means to be in a situation in which no one can arbitrarily, and with impunity, interfere with you.

For the sake of argument, let’s grant Pettit that liberty is best conceived of as non-domination. For the sake of argument, let’s also grant him that many of the “enhancements” to representative democracy that he and other theorists favor—such as deliberative forums, citizens’ courts of appeals, and so on—are necessary to prevent political officials from dominating over citizens.

Even if so, it’s not clear to me why republicans have any grounds to favor democracy over epistocracy. In a democracy, every citizen has an equal right to vote. In an epistocracy, political power is apportioned according to knowledge and competence. For instance, an epistocracy might not grant citizens the right to vote unless they can pass a test of basic political knowledge, or it might allow everyone the right to vote, but give additional votes to citizens who pass a test, or it might allow panels of experts to veto democracy legislation.

In Against Democracy, I’m trying to convince readers that the choice between democracy and epistocracy is purely instrumental. That is, democracy is not inherently just and epistocracy is not inherently unjust. We should just use whatever political system, despite whatever flaws it might have in practice, turns out to produce the most overall just results.

Your individual right to vote does not stop you from being dominated, simply because your individual right to vote makes no difference. How we vote matters, but how any one of us votes does not. That’s why I say, at the beginning of the quoted passage, that if the rest of us decide to try to dominate you through politics, your right to vote provides you no more protection than a bucket provides against a great flood. Perhaps a better metaphor would be that your right to vote protects you from being dominated no better than a random lottery ticket protects you from dire poverty.

There may be other reasons to favor democracy or to hold that every citizen ought to have an equal right to vote. (I examine and debunk a bunch of these purported reasons elsewhere in the book.) But, my point here is just that republican political theorists have no particular reason to favor democracy over epistocracy. Or, more precisely, their arm-chair, a priori arguments give them no special reason to do so.
Learn more about Against Democracy at the Princeton University and Jason Brennan's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Ethics of Voting.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 15, 2016

Leidy Klotz's "Sustainability through Soccer"

Leidy Klotz is Associate Professor of Engineering at Clemson University. Less than a decade into his academic career, he has been awarded a prestigious CAREER award from the National Science Foundation and named to NerdScholar’s inaugural list of “40 under 40: Professors Who Inspire” for his ability to captivate and engage students. Before becoming a professor, he was a professional soccer player.

Klotz applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sustainability through Soccer: An Unexpected Approach to Saving Our World, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford was right on about Page 99 of my book. One can certainly get a feel for the entire book just by reading that page, especially if I’m allowed to add my commentary, which follows.

Page 99 begins with the end of a comparison between 1) a Czechoslovakian soccer player who pioneered a new way to take penalty kicks and 2) the grass on the sand dunes of the New Jersey barrier island where my family vacations. I use these examples to make a larger point about the sustainability concept of inertia. The Czech’s new penalty kick approach worked because he considered the inertia embedded in the soccer system, in particular the goalkeeper’s early movement. In a similar way, the dune grass works with the inertia in the beach ecosystem to help sand accumulate, more effectively protecting the island against erosion than expensive manmade structures like jetties.

So, through the soccer and sustainability stories, those who have read the entire section, not just the piece on page 99, will have learned that: “inertia is a resistance to change in the current state of motion, which means that, by using inertia, we can avoid wasted effort.” Every section ends with a summary of the main concept and a reminder of the illustrative examples. On page 99, the reminder is: “Because of inertia, simple dune grass controls beach erosion, and slow penalty kicks fool guessing goalkeepers.”

My book contains a few dozen comparisons like these, laid out to help readers understand a progression of basic sustainability concepts in a way that is hopefully memorable. Soccer is used as an analogy not just because it is the most popular sport in the world, but also because it is a free-flowing game that exemplifies many of the same systems-thinking concepts that are so important to understanding sustainability.

And so, the section that begins on the end of page 99 explains: 1) why arguably the best defender in the world was left off of Argentina’s 2010 World Cup team; 2) why lemmings jumping from cliffs are not suicidal; and 3) how these examples explain the sustainability concept of carrying capacities. If you don’t yet see the connection, you will if you read my book.
Learn more about Sustainability through Soccer at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Marcia A. Zug's "Buying a Bride"

Marcia A. Zug is Associate Professor of Law at the University of South Carolina.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Buying a Bride: An Engaging History of Mail-Order Matches, and reported the following:
The top half of page 99 shows a watercolor of a fur trapper and his Indian bride. This picture depicts a loving marriage, but many 19th century portrayals of white/Indian relationships were far from complimentary. In fact, this watercolor is placed right after Canadian Bishop George Hills’s disapproving description of such unions:
Referring to the gold rush town of Douglas, Hills wrote, “almost every man in Douglas lives with an Indian women” and he described a particularly scandalous example in which the local constable and magistrate were both competing for the affections of the same Indian woman. According to Hills, this love triangle occurred after the magistrate sent the constable on a long distance errand and while he was gone, convinced the woman to come live with him. When the constable returned, he tried to woo her back, but he was unsuccessful and “eventually gave up.”
Christian ministers like Hills considered these relationships scandalous and immoral, and were determined to end them. However, this goal was impossible without creating an alternative. The proposed solution was mail-order brides.

In order to bring brides to the Canadian frontier, Hills and others convinced the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, to create the Columbia Emigration Society. This organization easily raised the money for the women’s immigration costs however, convincing single women to immigrate was far more difficult. Previous mail-order bride programs had demonstrated that it took more than free passage and an appeal to “moral duty” to convince women cross the Atlantic and marry a complete stranger. The most effective bridal programs were those that gave women economic and social incentives to immigrate.

The Columbia Emigration Society initially offered women few incentives, but this changed when they joined forces with the Female Middle Class Emigration Society. The FMCES wanted to help women combat the sexist and degrading way women were treated by English society and they believed marital immigration was the answer. In most cases, the FMCES’s predictions were correct, and the arriving brides benefited from mail-order marriage. Nevertheless, the Indian wives they displaced certainly did not.

Page 99 demonstrates that despite its many benefits, marital immigration was not good for all women. It also shows that the story of mail-order marriage cannot be told without understanding the practice’s complex racial history. Although the first mail order brides were lauded and praised, it was in large part because they helped displace native wives. Then, when the race of the arriving brides changed, these marriages were increasingly vilified. Modern critics of mail-order marriage claim to be female advocates, but it is important to consider whether this racist past influences their criticisms. Buying a Bride tells both sides of this complicated story.
Learn more about Buying a Bride at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Kristen Hopewell's "Breaking the WTO"

Kristen Hopewell is Senior Lecturer in International Political Economy at the University of Edinburgh.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Breaking the WTO: How Emerging Powers Disrupted the Neoliberal Project, and reported the following:
Breaking the WTO analyzes the impact of contemporary power shifts on the World Trade Organization (WTO), one of the most powerful institutions responsible for governing the global economy. For over half a century, the trading system was dominated by the US and other advanced-industrialized states, with developing countries and their interests severely marginalized. However, over the course of the Doha Round of trade negotiations, which began in 2001, new powers from the developing world – China, India and Brazil – emerged as major players at the WTO and came to have a significant impact on the negotiations.

Page 99 charts that impact, showing that the new powers succeeded both in putting issues of importance to developing countries at the center of the round and in blocking initiatives advanced by the US and other rich countries that were unfavorable to their interests. Compared to previous rounds of multilateral trade negotiations, the change has been profound. Working together, China, India and Brazil demonstrated the power to resist an unbalanced deal as well as to successfully make meaningful demands of the US and other traditional powers.

As the remainder of the book shows, the US had long been the primary driver of liberalization in the international trading system, using its position as the dominant political and economic power to push other countries to open their markets to its exports, while nonetheless maintaining significant protections in sensitive areas of its own. But in the Doha Round, for the first time, China, India and Brazil turned the tables on the US and other rich countries, pressing them to live up to their professed principles of free trade and open and liberalize their own markets.

Challenging the hypocrisy and double-standards built into the trading system, the emerging powers embraced the free trade principles of the WTO and demanded that the institution equally serve their interests. However, this threw the rising powers into direct conflict with the US and other traditional powers. The result has been a stalemate in the Doha Round, throwing the WTO and its neoliberal project into crisis.
Learn more about Breaking the WTO at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

J. Barton Scott's "Spiritual Despots"

J. Barton Scott is assistant professor of historical studies and the study of religion at the University of Toronto.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Spiritual Despots: Modern Hinduism and the Genealogies of Self-Rule, and reported the following:
Spiritual Despots is a theory book set in nineteenth-century India. It argues that when Hindu intellectuals wrote against “priestcraft,” or allegedly despotic religious authority, they were reimagining the modern political ideal of the self-governing individual.

Does the “Page 99 Test” work for the book? Yes and no. It bypasses spiritual despotism, but highlights other aspects of the book’s argument. On p. 99, we find ourselves in the company of Bengali reformer Keshub Chunder Sen as he rails against the evils of alcohol in a lecture delivered to a London temperance society. By following Sen from Calcutta to London, I stress that nineteenth-century religious and social reform movements need to be studied contrapuntally: as scholars, we should between colony and metropole, just as Sen did.

After quoting Sen, I interpret his lecture as follows:
Here, Keshub drops the nation onto the family dinner table, inserting the mass of humanity between the man and his pint. No beer is “innocent” because no beer is private. To fail to recognize the public nature of the domestic sphere and its family circle is to ignore the centrality of behavioral “quotation” to the constitution of the political field. A man becomes a saint by his ability to set an example, entering the mass by iteration—something that anyone, Keshub implies, can do. Newly aware of this fact, the private man’s relationship to all of his actions becomes mediated by the mass, open to imitation and thus, by some categorical imperative, rendered impersonal, national, open to legislation. The reference to “statistics” completes this process. Overlaid with “facts and figures,” “self-conduct” becomes simultaneously personal, social, and political. Thus, where “every individual at the present age is trying, as it were, by his very civilization and intelligence to retire into his own family circle, and to close his eyes to the interests of those around him,” Keshub refuses the individual its retreat from collectivity by offering a theory of the subject that can be read contravening liberal individuality to the extent that the individual is detached from the quotable language of his behavior.
This passage illustrates the methodological orientation of Spiritual Despots. I read nineteenth-century texts for their implicit theoretical claims, interpreting them as part of the longer history of anticolonial and postcolonial thought. Here, for example, I put Sen into conversation with both M. K. Gandhi and Homi Bhabha by reading him as offering a theory of behavioral mimicry. No action, Sen implies, belongs to the individual alone. Just as Indians learned to drink by mimicking the British (as Sen alleges), any imbiber can inadvertently inspire vice in another mimic. Behavior spreads when one person “quote[s] the example” of another. Every time I act, then, I should be aware of the distance that separates me from my deed. My behaviors originated outside of me, and they will continue to circulate long after I am gone. I am just a node in this fundamentally impersonal circulation of deeds.

For a Gandhi or a Bhabha, this insight becomes a means of challenging and rethinking the integrated subject prized by certain forms of liberal political theory. Something similar, I think, holds for Sen. Nineteenth-century Hindu reformers used religion to challenge the boundaries of the self and, by extension, the shape of society, and they did so in ways that still resonate today.
Learn more about Spiritual Despots at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 8, 2016

Theodore Vial's "Modern Religion, Modern Race"

Theodore Vial teaches modern western religious thought. He is the author of Schleiermacher: A Guide for the Perplexed (2013), Liturgy Wars: Ritual Theory and Protestant Reform in Nineteenth-Century Zurich ( 2004); and co-editor of Ethical Monotheism, Past and Present: Essays in Honor of Wendell S. Dietrich (2001). Vial received his B.A. from Brown University and both M.A. and Ph. D. from The University of Chicago.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Modern Religion, Modern Race, and reported the following:
Modern Religion, Modern Race makes the case that “religion” and “race” share a common genealogy. Because of this religion is a racialized category, even when race is not explicitly on the table. This is true both of the way people on the street think about and use the concepts of religion, and of scholars of religions who use the category to underpin their comparisons.

To understand how these concepts shape the modern world in ways we mostly take for granted, it is important to extend our genealogies past the Enlightenment (where most historical work on these concepts culminates) into the post-Enlightenment generation of early German romanticism. It is here that our ideas about culture and human nature take the shape they continue to have today.

Page 99 is a discussion of José Casanova’s important work on the secularization thesis. Casanova argues that what is distinctive about religion in the modern world is not that it is in decline, but that it is differentiated from other spheres of human activity such as politics, economics, and science. While I agree that differentiation is an important feature of modern religion, I argue that modern religion is not fully formed when this differentiation has taken place. The discussion continues on page 100: we “think of religion as not simply a matter of conscience, but as an orientation that goes to the very core of our identity, an orientation that shapes the whole person. We link religion to social and cultural groups.”

In later chapters I show how religion as a racialized category can be dangerous. One analyzes what Friedrich Schleiermacher has to say about the religion of the indigenous Australian peoples, and about Judaism in Prussia. Another shows how the same patterns of thought shape contemporary work in religious studies.

If readers turn to page 99 I hope that, in addition to the specifics of the argument I make, they will see the results of the effort I have made to render the complex arguments of people like Casanova (and also Kant, Herder, Schleiermacher, Friedrich Max Müller, etc.) in clear and engaging prose.
Learn more about Modern Religion, Modern Race at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue