Better Franz than Elvis
Franz Bibfeldt ("The Unbearable Lightness of Being Bibfeldt," February/95) is not dead. He is retired and resides in Deerfield Beach, Florida.
The enclosed $.17 check to the Donnelley Stool of Bibfeldt Studies is being sent at his request. (I have matched his contribution.)
Daniel Shevelenko, MBA'56
Deerfield Beach, Florida
Sharp turn ahead
No, it has never bothered me one bit that the Romans counted their years backward--753, 752, 751 B.C.--(to answer a question to the reader in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being Bibfeldt"). Already possessing a classical education, they had little else to worry about. Besides, it served them right. But I can't agree that the Fall of the Roman Empire may be attributed to this fact. It's even more likely that, since the Latin alphabet lacked the letter "U," their war chariots were compelled to make V-turns, which caused them to tip over.
It's odd that Bibfeldt's otherwise profound theological response to Either/Or fails to consider Exclusive-And (A and B but not both), which is sometimes used even by my rather old PC.
Peter H. Greene, PhD'58
I'm neither a conservative nor one of those "aggressive" (Bruce Lincoln's epithet) editorial writers on the Wall Street Journal, that "elite organ of and for capital," as he puts it ("Upstaging Authority," February/95). Nor, to quote the Divinity School professor, do I speak venally for "others' interests," defend "financial interests," etc. Yet it is surprising to me to hear a responsible person, presumably on the political left, excusing and even condoning the behavior of "activist" Rick Springer. His violent actions against a speaker on the rostrum, in this case President Reagan in Las Vegas, were hardly defensible. On the contrary, they were most decidedly reprehensible.
But the professor finds such actions praiseworthy. One wonders if the next thing he will be advocating will be tyrannicide, which is a more complete form, after all, of what he calls defiance of authority that is in the religious tradition of the 16th- century Jesuits. Indeed, on that score, Lincoln may have sympathized with the tyrannicidal plans of the Berrigan Brothers, who, it is said, plotted violence against an elected leader named Richard Nixon. To me, it borders on sophomoric negativism to condone violent behavior of this sort in this already blood-soaked day and age, let alone heroize one of its practitioners.
Nor is my objection "hysterical," to use Lincoln's pejorative for anyone who would dare question the bizarre actions of someone like Springer, a ringer if there ever was one. The professor needs to be reminded that one very rational reason why such behavior alarms people is that it so offends basic democratic rules of order, or, if you will, common sportsmanship. As the kids found out in Lord of the Flies (Professor Lincoln, please read!), without such rules we'd come to resemble some such place as post-Communist Russia or some other anarchic free-for-all.
Albert L. Weeks, AM'49
Facts and authority figures
Bruce Lincoln incorporates misconceptions in ancient history and demography in regard to the Greek Assembly and the Roman Senate. "Each site," he writes, "commanded the attention and respect of large audiences, sometimes approximating the total population." There is no record of a universal gathering.
Roman citizenship was extended to the whole of Italy south of the River Po in 89 B.C.; citizens numbered 900,000, according to the census of 70/69 B.C., when Cicero was practicing law. And the Senate, before which in 63 B.C. he delivered his speeches against Catiline, had been enlarged to 600 a score years earlier by Sulla. The First Speech Against Catiline occurred in the Temple of Jupiter Stator, instead of the Senate House, for the sake of safety.
The population of the democracy of Athens in 431 B.C. may have numbered 310,000 (men, women, children, resident aliens, and slaves). Approximately 30,000 adult male citizens were eligible to vote in the Athenian assembly. But how many attended and voted on any one occasion? A quorum of 6,000 was required in the very serious vote concerning an ostracism. We may infer that no greater number routinely gathered in the assembly to conduct the business of the 1,000-square-mile Athenian city-state, which was called Attica.
Citizen participation in Athenian public life nevertheless was intense. Statistically, it is most likely that every citizen served at least once in his lifetime on the Council of 500, the representative body whose members were chosen each year to prepare business for the deliberations of the assembly.
Professor Lincoln, in discussing "authorized or authorizing places" for the "mass-production of the authority effect," would have us believe that the "control over [the ancient] sites was tightly managed, usually by an aristocratic oligarchy." In the case of Athens, this is an unsuccessful hodiernal analogy, but it should also be noted that the Founding Fathers of this Republic drew valuable lessons from the age of Cicero and its antecedents.
Lloyd B. Urdahl, PhD'59
Rochester, New York
Bruce Lincoln responds: My thanks to Lloyd Urdahl for the information he provides, even if my reference was to Homeric assemblies, not Athenian. Albert Weeks' temperate remarks are also welcome. Although baffling at times (tyrannicide? Jesuits? poor sportsmanship?), they let me clarify some issues.
The central questions in my book, Authority: Construction and Corrosion, include the following. What exactly is authority? Where does it come from? How does it work? How do speaker, content, style, and context interact in authoritative acts of speech? Who gets to speak in situations that invest speech with authority? Who is excluded?
When authority works efficiently, it can obscure the processes of which it is the product. To cast light on those processes, I chose to study dramatic episodes when authority was disrupted, then reestablished itself. The article excerpted from my book is one of five case studies, ranging from Homeric Greece to the present. Although I do not hide my preferences, my goal there was not to celebrate Rick Springer or to mock Ronald Reagan. Rather, I wanted to explore what was at stake in the moment they struggled for the microphone; how each one felt justified in staking their claim; and how others came to think about, comment upon, and pass judgment on their struggle.
Apparently, Mr. Weeks doesn't think I should have written about the incident, just as he thinks the Wall Street Journal (which had not become the Main Street Journal when last I looked) rightly chastised CBS for letting Springer make his views known. Personally, I appreciate the Magazine's willingness to print both my views and those of my critics.
A right to luxury?
I read with some distress Debra Shore's article, "The Houses that Gautreaux Built" (February/95). She describes with great detail and accuracy the history of Gautreaux v. the CHA and its connection with many U of C alums. She even tacitly approves of the CHA's new rent-subsidy program by citing some of its modest, albeit rather costly, successes.
But the apartment occupied by Niokie Perry, profiled in the article, has a fair market value of about $1,000/month. Clearly, if we spend enough tax dollars we can buy all CHA residents such luxurious housing. But Shore fails to ask these important questions: Why does Niokie Perry have a right to a huge rent subsidy and the attractive apartment that it can buy? And why should taxpayers be forced to foot the bill to the tune of "$90,000 to $100,000" per unit? Finally, how can I get in on, rather than having to continuously pay for, this rather attractive deal?
K. David Umlauf, AB'82
I was excited to read of efforts by Barry Bauman, AM'71, ("Chicago Journal," February/95) to restore the Masque of Youth mural in Ida Noyes Hall, but I want to assure him that some students do indeed know of the mural.
I had the pleasure of encountering the mural when, as a first-year law student, I attended (of all things) aerobics classes taught in the third-floor theater by then law student (now assistant law professor) Tracey Meares, JD'91. As I struggled through Tracey's rigorous classes, I drew inspiration from the lithesome figures in the mural and, when seeking respite from the world of law, I would wander into Ida Noyes and take a mental stroll past the peaceful scenes of the open-air masque. When next in Chicago, I will certainly visit Ida Noyes to see the mural's figures in their newly restored beauty.
Ann K. Adams, JD'93
Only one of the Masque's four panels has been worked on; however, as was noted by Barry Bauman, funding is being sought to restore the entire mural.--Ed.
In defense of defense
Mike Perlin ("Letters," February/95) applied the question, "Are you better off now than four years ago?" to the military over the last 50 years. He then recites a litany of U.S. "military adventures" during that time, apparently ignoring the fact that in this country, foreign and defense policy are set not by the military but by the civilian leaders.
Mr. Perlin obviously disagrees with these policies but also extends his anger to the military, whom he blames for trillions "spent on destruction." Who ordered that "destruction," which in fact engendered many positive results, as in the security of Western Europe during a period of Soviet threats, and also, eventually, the dissolution of totalitarian communism that had dominated Eastern Europe for almost half a century? Not the military, which in this country exists solely to carry out policy.
Our survival as a nation is bound up with whatever peace and order we can maintain in the world. Those of us who have chosen to work for the military for various reasons (not "economic"--who is going to get rich in the military?) feel we have performed a function of some value to our country. Albert Schweitzer, who gave up a promising career as a theologian and philosopher to become a medical missionary in Africa, once observed that the only people who are really happy are those who seek and find how to serve. Unfortunately, not very many people would think of the armed forces as offering this kind of opportunity.
The truth, however, is that all of our other opportunities for happiness through service depend on the skill and devotion of those whose military service has kept us from the horror of a third world war. As Sir John Slessor put it in his book, Strategy of the West: "It is customary in democratic countries to deplore expenditures on armaments as conflicting...with social services. There is a tendency to forget that the most important social service that a government can do for its people is to keep them alive and free."
Harold L. Hitchens, AB'35, AM'36, PhD'59
Colonel, USAF (Ret.)
Chicago's only a click away
Congratulations on putting out an Internet version of the Magazine ("Editor's Notes," February/95). Having lived overseas for the last few years, one of the things I miss is my regular "remembrance of things past." This past December I managed to make it back to Alaska for Christmas after two years away. One of the pleasures (and chores) of being home was catching up on two years (!) of Magazine back issues. I, for one, am pleased by and grateful for your efforts.
Matthew J. Cordery, SB'85
A reminder: You can find the Magazine on the World Wide Web by visiting the U of C Home Page (http://www.uchicago.edu) and clicking on "News, Events, and Entertainment".--Ed.
The article on McKeon ("Will the Real Richard McKeon Please Stand Up?" December/94) and subsequent letters have been very interesting to me, a former graduate student in the philosophy department in the late '40s. I have been surprised, however, not to have seen some mention of the book Richard McKeon: A Study (U of C Press, 1990), by George Kimball Plochmann, PhD'50. Plochmann suggests that the time is ripe for rediscovery of McKeon's philosophy.
Arthur G. Olsson, PhB'47
Nashua, New Hampshire