"Oh, that's not true," I shot back. "I had lunch with him."
|Rackham Graduate School at U of M|
I hasten to add that, although the other profs I would encounter at Michigan were liberal, my experience in Ann Arbor was not as horrid as what was being reported on many American campuses. Perhaps I chose my classes wisely and had a little luck, but my profs were fair. They never docked me on ideological or religious grounds, nor did I sense there was ever a political litmus test to win grants or earn good grades. David Hollinger, Raymond Grew, Elizabeth Eisenstein, Tom Tentler, David Bien, Kathleen Canning, Jim Turner, Victor Miesel, Linda Neagley -- I respected every one of them as scholars. Indeed, it was they who taught me that academic rigor requires intellectual diversity.
* * *
The next morning, a Tuesday, I arrived at Tonsor's office in Haven Hall to tell him about an upcoming trip that would require me to miss one of his classes. He was not yet in for office hours, so I looked at the material he'd posted on his door. You can tell a lot about a person by what they post on their door. What caught my eye was a cartoon from the New Yorker. It showed a baseball scorecard of two teams, the Realists and Idealists. In each of the nine innings, the Realists had scored a run or two, while the Idealists had been shut out. Yet the final score was Realists 0, Idealists 2. It made a good laugh all the better knowing who posted the cartoon on his door.
"Hello, Mr. Whitney," said Tonsor as he neared his office. I was beginning to learn his tone of voice, that note of deliberation, characteristic of his greeting. It was as if he were expecting you and now awaited the unwrapping of a pearl. As he flopped his satchel down on the desk, I sat briefly to tell him about my upcoming trip to Washington, DC. I could tell that he was genuinely pleased for me, as I had won first place in a national essay contest on American foreign policy in the Middle East.
"Do not become corrupted by the Imperial City," he admonished me. "It's where scholars go to die. As for the conservative movement -- well, it died when it put on a blue suit and went to Washington."
Now that -- that last sentence -- provides yet another illustration of how Tonsor could toss out a thought so easily yet so provocatively, leaving me vexed. I thought conservatives were enjoying their heyday with Ronald Reagan in the White House. Before I could ask for elaboration, he returned to the matter at hand, and said that we could arrange to discuss the material in History 416 that I'd miss. That was considerate of him -- not every professor was so accommodating.
On my way out the door, I remarked with a smirk that Cassirer's Philosophy of the Enlightenment was as tough as its billing.
With an arch smile and a waggle of the head, Tonsor replied, "Among intellectual histories of the Enlightenment, it's Moby Dick. There are easier whales to harpoon, but they wouldn't be as much fun to pursue."
* * *
"Modernity is the Enlightenment, and the Enlightenment is modernity," Tonsor proclaimed from the lectern later that morning. "I exaggerate only slightly. By the second half of the seventeenth century and especially by the first half of the eighteenth, Europe was seeing two forces unleashed which would characterize modernity in general and the Enlightenment in particular. One is rationality. The other is liberalism. Recall how in our first meeting I said that ideas have power; they have consequences when men seize on them. If you see how both rationality and liberalism have informed and continue to shape the intellectual and institutional life of the West, then you will know why you think the way you do."
TO BE CONTINUED