Genius in France?

Scott Campbell has a go at the Australian Historical Association, somehow managing to misread Cathie Clement’s proposal that historians should not publicly attack their colleagues’ integrity as a proposal that historians should not publicly disagree. Campbell has a fine old rant about how silly this idea is, even wondering “why anyone would think it’s a good idea”. Well, nobody actually thinks the straw man Campbell attacks is a good idea. Ken Parish has a nice exposition on why a rule like the one that Clement actually proposed would encourage civil debate.

Campbell then opines that Keith Windschuttle is the Jerry Lewis of Australian historians:

Oh, and let’s not forget that he published The Killing of History, a book acclaimed throughout the world, and that he is regarded in America as one of the world’s foremost intellectuals of the current time. So Waterhouse is probably right: the Australian historians have no right to treat him as their intellectual equal.

Oh, really? I looked at the tables in Richard Posner’s Public Intellectuals: A Study in Decline. Windschuttle is not listed in the tables of the top 100 public intellectuals. Nor is he in the list of all 546 intellectuals that Posner considered. In response to criticism that there were omissions from his list, Posner added all the names that his critics said should be on the list, giving a new list containing 727 names. This list therefore contains all the names that Posner or his critics considered to be public intellectuals. Windschuttle isn’t one of them. Regarded as one of the world’s foremost intellectuals? I think not.

I thought I should extend to Campbell the courtesy that he failed to give Clement and ask him to explain what he meant. His explanation:

Windschuttle is very highly regarded by the East Coast neo-conservative culture set. His numerous articles in The New Criterion have been widely read and admired. Arts and Letters Daily also feature Windschuttle’s articles a lot. The Killing of History is known and either admired or hated by many Americans that I meet in and out of academia.

A dozen articles in a a magazine that seems to be a vanity press for neo-cons does not make you one of the world’s foremost intellectuals. It doesn’t even make him a big fish in the small neo-conservative pond.

As far as current “public intellectuals” go, he’s up there with Mark Steyn and Theodore Dalrymple.

I’m guessing that putting Windschuttle on a par with Mark Steyn was intended as praise…

Update: Campbell responds, calling me Tim-Tam and the “Marxist Crusader”. He just Steynwalls about his attack on Clement, and seems to have backed off from his claim that Windschuttle is regarded “as one of the world’s foremost intellectuals” replacing it with “Windschuttle is big in America”.

I see that I should clarify what I meant when I wrote “vanity press”. I did not mean that Windschuttle pays them to publish his articles, but that the majority of The New Criterion‘s income comes, not from selling magazines and ads, but from right-wing foundations like Scaife and Olin. That means that the survival of the magazine depends not on on pleasing its readers, but on pleasing the trustees of those foundations. That does not prove that his articles are no good, as Campbell seems to think I am arguing, but that being published there suggests only that his work is considered worthwhile by those foundations and does not prove that a larger group like, oh, America thinks so. Possibly that was a bit much work for two words.


  1. #1 John Quiggin
    August 24, 2004

    Tim, though you’re spot-on on most points (particularly Steyn), I don’t think the fact that New Criterion is heavily subsidised by right-wing foundations justifies the description “vanity press”. That implies that Windschuttle himself paid to get published.

    Lots of similar magazines, some eminently reputable, lose money and rely on wealthy backers.

  2. #2 Robert
    August 24, 2004

    John, isn’t it the case that The Fabrication of Aboriginal History was self-published by Windschuttle?

  3. #3 John Quiggin
    August 25, 2004

    Robert, you’re right, though again this is not a point I’d want to make too much of. Windschuttle established his own press some time ago (it published Coleman and Hagger’s Exasperating Calculators), so it’s not surprising he’d choose to publish his own book.

    Of course, none of this changes the fact that both books are terrible.

  4. #4 David Tiley
    August 25, 2004

    He is right about Aldaily, at least in a recent link to an Australian piece.. sad really, given that Aldaily had some glory years.

  5. #5 cs
    August 25, 2004

    “exaggeratedly alarmist” was Richard Evans’ gentle trashing of Windschuttle’s quirky self-therapy that is The Killing.

  6. #6 dj
    August 27, 2004

    When someone throws around the term “Marxist Crusader” in the 21st century, you have to wonder what is going on.

  7. #7 Tim Lambert
    August 28, 2004

    dj, some of the neo-conservatives seem to be obsessed with Marxists.

  8. #8 dj
    August 30, 2004

    Maybe that’s because a lot of them used to be Marxists? You find that the really doctrinaire ones don’t understand that there are other socialist traditions. So, maybe they just carry this on when they get mugged by reality? *shrug*