Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Enemies of Scholarship

Isaiah Berlin, "L.B. Namier," in Personal Impressions (New York: The Viking Press, 1981), pp. 63-82 (at 79-80):
He spoke often of the dignity of learning: of the need to keep scholarship pure, to protect it from its three greatest enemies: amateurism, journalistic prostitution, and obsession with doctrine. 'An amateur', he declared in one of his typical apophthegms, 'is a man who thinks more about himself than about his subject', and he mentioned a younger colleague whom he suspected of a wish to glitter. He passionately believed in professionalism in every field: he denounced fine writing, and, still more, a desire to startle or shock the reader, whether he was a member of the general public or of the world of scholars.


Journalism    the desire to épater, to entertain, to be brilliant    was, in a man of learning, mere irresponsibility. 'Irresponsible' was one of the most opprobrious terms in his vocabulary. His belief in the moral duties of historians and scholars generally was Kantian in its severity and genuineness. As for doctrinaire obsessions, that again appeared to him as a form of culpable self indulgence — wanton escape from the the duty of following minutely, wherever they led, the often complex, convoluted empirical paths constituted by the 'facts', into some symmetrical pattern invented by the historian to indulge his own metaphysical or moral predilection; alternatively it was a quasi-pathological intellectual obsession which rendered the historian incapable of seeing 'wie es eigentlich gewesen'. Hence Namier's distaste for, and ironies at the expense of, philosophical historians; and the emphasis on material factors and distrust of ideal ones.

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