None of my many, many scores of blog posts has generated as many comments as the piece I did on Newt Gingrich's doctoral dissertation -- fifty-one comments, at last count, only two or three of which are my responses. I warned everyone in my original post that I am no kind of expert on Belgian colonialism, but the topic was too hot to ignore. Obviously, we would all prefer to hear from some folks who actually know what they are talking about [one of whom, Professor Seay, did contribute a comment], and today, one of the experts weighed in. Adam Hochshild is a genuine scholar of Southern African matters, as well as being, I am proud to say, an old friend. He has an Op Ed piece in the NY TIMES today on the dissertation that you all should read [just go to the TIMES site and click on Opinion in the left-hand column.] I am especially pleased that his knowledgeable judgment of the dissertatiion pretty much confirms by amateur impressions.
As I suggested in my original post, Gingrich's ideological orientation in the dissertation is roughly that of the Cold-War Council on Foreign Relations foreign policy establishment. This is the bi-partisan imperialist consensus that has ruled American foreign policy for the past sixty years, guiding the policy decisions of such otherwise dissimilar Presidents as John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, as well as of a bevy of Secretaries of State. Belligerant Neo-Conservative American dominationist war-mongering is a right-wing variation of that consensus, fitfully matched on the left by an inchoate opposition to American wars that does not, for the most part, issue from any coherent alternative policy orientation, save in the writings of such figures as Noam Chomsky. One of the delicious ironies of this year's run-up to the 2012 presidential contest, occasionally remarked upon, is that Ron Paul is the one aspirant to the presidency who actually rejects the post-war consensus, exhibiting instead a Washingtonian abhorence of foreign entanglements.
What caught my attention in the Ginfrich dissertation was its pedestrian quality, its lack of intellectual curiosity or imagination. I ploughed through many doctoral dissertations over the course of an academic career that lasted just exactly half a century, and I think I can spot a piece of solid mediocrity when I see one. Gingrich is not stupid. By the standards of the modern Academy he is adequately intelligent. [I remind you that this is an Academy that contains, among other wonders, roughly ten thousand professional philosophers, so the bar is set reasonably low.] But he clearly does not have a sparkling intellect, a genuinely curious mind, a penetrating imagination.
Although I do not myself actually know any Republicans [I don't get out as much as I used to], I gather from the commentary on the web that Gingrich's popularity among folks of that persuasion derives in part from their belief that he would make mincemeat of Obama in face-to-face debates. Gingrich himself has compared such an imagined encounter to the Lincoln-Douglas Debates [although I think he fancies himself playing both parts.] I am quite willing to wager a sizeable sum that Obama would destroy Gingrich, without appearing actually to lift a finger.