Friday, January 18, 2013

Michael Austin's new book on the Founding Fathers

A former professor of mine, Michael Austin, has a new book on how the Founding Fathers have been redeployed by the right wing as a kind of stick to shut down reasonable debate. The title of the book is That's Not What They Meant!: Reclaiming the Founding Fathers from America's Right Wing.

I post this to TCH partially because we have people who work on early American lit, but also to kind of reprise some of the issues raised in Adam Komisaruk's Public Spheres Seminar from last Spring, and related less directly to Ryan Claycomb's Fall Seminar on uses of the past (though not British postmodernism). You can watch the After Words interview with Michael where he talks extensively about how the idea of the Founders functions rhetorically in contemporary public politics and in the public sphere of the Early Republic. Of course, history is used continually in the public sphere as a source of authority for certain points, but Michael's book points to a flaw in the rhetorical use of 'The Founding Fathers,' namely that there was no such thing as 'The Founding Fathers' as a kind of "collective hive mind" as Michael says in the interview. However, Michael also notes that shifting the discourse to 'some' or 'many' Founding Fathers would destroy the power of the rhetorical appeal. In other words, any position that evokes a hive mind collective of Founding Fathers relies on a logical fallacy for its authority, but despite the fallacious quality the position is incredibly effective (dangerously so, Michael argues) for limiting the sphere of what can 'legitimately' be considered in public policy.

You can follow the blog that lead up to TNWTM! here, and Michael's newest blog attempting to encourage civil and rational debate about contemporary political issues here.

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