It is rather difficult for me to respond to a rage so fierce that at times it seems to lapse into incoherence, but I shall try. What I have done to bring forth such a rage seems to be two things. First is my celebration of the quotidian in the lives of intellectuals ... most significantly for Mr. Shannon, though by no means my exclusive focus, their just getting on in a bureaucratic world. The second has to do with the lack of articulated grounds for my judgments of value, my apparent lack of commitment to truth. Both are said to play out in indefensible (or at least undefended) choices with respect to what stories to tell, what heroes to celebrate, what ideas to care about. And somehow all of this undermines what intellectual history should be about.
I make no bones about my reasons for doing as I do, so let me be clear about these matters. I cannot say what the life of an intellectual was like in 1850, 1750, or 1650, but I can say that for the past hundred or so years the major locus of intellectual activity has been in bureaucratic institutions-universities, magazines of opinion, think tanks. And yet we intellectuals on the whole think and write as if the standard of value in our business is the life of a Newton or a Rousseau or a Kant or some other independently wealthy gentleman, or retainer of such, someone for whom getting and spending is somehow unproblematic, and then flagellate ourselves in private (and occasionally in public) for not living up to that standard, for not thinking transcendent thoughts all the time. We do ourselves ill by not recognizing the context in which we live and work and then measuring our lives by that context. To wish to measure ourselves by some context that we neither live in nor can recreate is that ultimate act of ahistoricity by an intellectual historian. I will not adopt such a measure and so sell hardworking humans short. And so I celebrate-with one or two cheers, never three-those who in the face of this quotidian existence seem to me to manage to do something that vaguely passes for noble, or fine, or admirable. Doing such in the bureaucratic institutions we all inhabit is, after all, a real achievement.
John H. Schlegel,
No Lever and No Place to Stand (A Response to Christopher Shannon),
Yale J.L. & Human.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlh/vol8/iss2/7