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Authors

Carl Landauer

Abstract

Erwin Panofsky, the émigré art historian often credited with revolutionizing American art history, gave a Princeton commencement address in 1953 with a title that seemed perfectly suited to the obligatory incantations of graduation ceremonies: In Defense of the Ivory Tower.In it Panofsky distinguished the scholar occupying the ivory tower from those engaged in social activity on the ground below. Nevertheless, the occupant of the ivory tower was not entirely distanced from the social life of the community. Ultimately, the scholar functioned for Panofsky as a sort of "watchman": "Whenever the occupant perceives a danger to life or liberty, he has the opportunity, even the duty, not only to 'signal along the line from summit to summit' but also to yell, on the slim chance of being heard, to those on the ground." Panofsky went on to enumerate scholars who had sounded the alarm: Socrates, Erasmus, Sebastian Castellio, Voltaire, Theodor Mommsen, the seven professors at Göttingen, and Albert Einstein. All had "raised their voices when they felt that there was a danger to liberty." Although Panofsky's address was delivered at the height of the McCarthy era, one had to read between the lines to detect a critique of his contemporary America-he was not shouting very loudly himself. But it is nevertheless clear that Panofsky's image of the scholar in the ivory tower was one of general disconnectedness from political activity, except at extreme moments in the life of the community.

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