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  • Whiggishness and the anti-Anderson Lobby

    Nothing like a good thread title to stir the blood, eh?

    There is a very interesting piece in today's NYT; it's part one of a five part series. The background here is the History and Philosophy of Science department at Princeton in the early 70s. It's worth reading the entire piece, not just the snippet below.

    I think, if I may be so bold, that part of what Mr. Leahy, Begg, and Fido are trying - successfully IMHO - to say is that we need to look at Anderson with lenses not of 21st century making.

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com...inion&emc=tya1

    [I]His often repeated, most scathing complaint concerned Whiggishness — in history of science, the tendency to evaluate and interpret past scientific theories not on their own terms, but in the context of current knowledge. The term comes from Herbert Butterfield’s “The Whig Interpretation of History,” written when Butterfield, a future Regius professor of history at Oxford, was only 31 years old. Butterfield had complained about Whiggishness, describing it as “…the study of the past with direct and perpetual reference to the present” – the tendency to see all history as progressive, and in an extreme form, as an inexorable march to greater liberty and enlightenment. [3] For Butterfield, on the other hand, “…real historical understanding” can be achieved only by “attempting to see life with the eyes of another century than our own.” [4][5]

  • #2
    Cretins?

    No not Cretins...and I must appologise for the word 'Gook' which means something I never intended, over the pond...

    I think something more comical and trivial would be better

    How about 'numb skulls' or 'numpties'?

    Pirate

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Jeff Leahy View Post
      No not Cretins...and I must appologise for the word 'Gook' which means something I never intended, over the pond...
      We're just gonna have to take away the "K" on your keyboard. No offense was taken, and that's one area where I am always spoiling for a fight. I thought you meant "goon"....which would fit nicely.

      Originally posted by Jeff Leahy View Post
      How about 'numb skulls' or 'numpties'?

      Pirate
      I am open to suggestions. And while I revel in childlike insults and always have time for them, I do think there are some very relevant points raised in the NYT's story.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by SirRobertAnderson View Post
        I think, if I may be so bold, that part of what Mr. Leahy, Begg, and Fido are trying - successfully IMHO - to say is that we need to look at Anderson with lenses not of 21st century making.
        "we need to look at Anderson with lenses not of 21st century making."

        ... which, in itself, makes perfect sense.

        But, if one is given license to interpret, through "lenses" of his own choosing, a great deal of 'spin' could be generated.

        Perhaps, a great deal of 'spin' has already been generated.

        Originally posted by Jeff Leahy View Post
        No not Cretins...and I must appologise for the word 'G**k' which means something I never intended, over the pond...
        'G**k'?

        'D**k'?

        'S**e'?

        If one expresses doubts, regarding Anderson's integrity, does he somehow transform into a NLF ('Viet Cong') guerilla incarnate?

        Originally posted by SirRobertAnderson View Post
        Originally posted by Jeff Leahy View Post
        How about 'numb skulls' or 'numpties'?

        Pirate
        I am open to suggestions. And while I revel in childlike insults and always have time for them, ...
        You have offered me a tremendous amount of encouragement, Bob. And, you have been very tolerant of my many indiscretions: Perhaps, too tolerant. For both, I am most grateful!

        However, between this thread, and your most recent exchange with Stewart Evans, you have not been practicing what you preach, regarding community and civility, on these boards.
        Last edited by SirRobertAnderson; March 7, 2011, 07:11 PM. Reason: Enough with the racial epithets, intended or not.

        Comment


        • #5
          Some harmless josking...

          By todays standards Anderson believed some pretty out there stuff, not least that JC himself was about to reappear at any moment and the day of judgement was nigh....

          The Bretherine today are pretty cut off from mainstream religion...

          But at the turn of the century the lines were far less clear...religeon was heading in all sorts of directions and Anderson was an important thinker in certain circles....

          It was far more important to his thinking than the identity of one murdererer

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Colin Roberts View Post
            However, between this thread, and your most recent exchange with Stewart Evans, you have not been practicing what you preach, regarding community and civility, on these boards.
            Trust me - I didn't say a tenth of what should have been said, and said long ago. Those that don't care for it can depart for other boards.

            And I don't believe there exists a Ripper community. We pretend there is, and then stab one another in the back on message boards and PMs. I've had enough.



            But back to whiggishness. I dusted off The Silence of God this afternoon after reading the NYT article and it really is an alien artifact to me. Yes, it's in English, but much of it impenetrable to me. I come away with the feeling that I really don't understand Anderson, not a whit. I guess what I am groping at in some fashion is saying that I am not sure I would be qualified to actually translate what Anderson is saying in his secular writings.

            It's a complicated issue. And I thought the NYT article a good place to start a discussion.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Jeff Leahy View Post
              By todays standards Anderson believed some pretty out there stuff, not least that JC himself was about to reappear at any moment and the day of judgement was nigh....
              The messianic Christians of today have some very pro-Israeli points of view, which apparently has to do with various prophecies that are to be fulfilled. If memory serves Anderson said something to the effect that because of his beliefs, he would never - could never - be an anti-Semite. Mr. Begg - do you recall the remarks I am referencing?

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Colin Roberts

                I will speak no further, about this particular issue, on these boards.
                Indeed you won't.

                I am deleting your prior post. Welcome to the new Forums, version 2011.

                One peep and you are history.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Before this gets out of hand, no one in their right mind would consider SPE anything remotely close to cretinous.
                  I believe what Bob is suggesting is those who call SRA an anti-Semite because of his statements in the Lighter Side...and those who think he was an incompetent policeman for one thing or the other and that we should all simply dismiss what he said in regard to Case related issues because of these flimsy arguments...is the issue.
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                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by How Brown View Post
                    Before this gets out of hand, no one in their right mind would consider SPE anything remotely close to cretinous.
                    I believe what Bob is suggesting is those who call SRA an anti-Semite because of his statements in the Lighter Side...and those who think he was an incompetent policeman for one thing or the other and that we should all simply dismiss what he said in regard to Case related issues because of these flimsy arguments...is the issue.
                    Absolutely. But those with agendas will see what they want to see, and stir the pot. Enough is enough.

                    Moving along.....

                    I have a very strong suspicion that Anderson's religious beliefs would have precluded him from anti-Semitic thoughts IF present day messianic Christianity mirrors similar thinking in the Victorian era. This may be whiggishness at its best, but it is worth digging into.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Thanks for the article, Bob. Yes of course, history gets reinterpeted, filtered, rehashed. Tempers flare. From my point of view as a hobbyist, first and foremost, I understand fully what a Ripper suspect book is. I enjoy it for what it is. I know what the genre is. Common sense tells me what the requirements are for getting published with such a book.

                      And I have read quite several and I like them. Begg, Cullen, Fido, Evans & Gainey, Tully. Just to name a few. Euan MacPherson's book is outstanding, I felt like I was there. Nothing wrong with writing a Ripper book, and giving the best, strongest case possible to your suspect. In fact, it's the name of the game.

                      Speaking of history, remember General Sherman? His memoirs were one of the best selling Civil War books. And he refused to say a word about Shiloh, where he was completely taken by surprise. Not a word!

                      Roy

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Roy Corduroy View Post
                        Thanks for the article, Bob. Yes of course, history gets reinterpeted, filtered, rehashed. Tempers flare.
                        It's amazing that after 120 years, Anderson remains a political third rail, ain't it?

                        I love Ripper suspect books, even the bad ones, BTW. A guilty pleasure. Don't tell anyone.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Anderson? His memoir? Well its not all about his memoir is it. His comments coupled with McNaghten and Swanson. But Anderson himself, there is a problem. A problem which I feel was laid out in a straightforward, methodical, professional manner by Stewart Evans. In his and Don's book SYI, and in his generous web postings on here and on Casebook. Stewart showed a progression. At first, Anderson is explaining to a reporter how circumstances made it so that the Ripper eluded them. Some years later ... Voila ! ... Anderson is telling us in his memoirs that is was a definite fact who the Ripper was.

                          You know, Anderson could have done like General Sherman. He could have just avoided the topic altogether, like Sherman did with Shiloh.

                          There is reasonable doubt there on my part with Anderson. Even though I really want to think the Ripper was Van Onselen's man, Joe Silver, the certain "low class" suspect that got me started. That he was the one who beat the police and took a boat, leaving,... who, an insane homeboy holding the memoirical bag. But alas, I've got reasonable doubt on that one too.

                          Stewart went from showing how it "could have" happened, in his 1998 masterpiece of theorizing "Kosminski and the Seaside Home" to (I borrow from Wescott) "raising the bar" by continuing to look, to hunt, to search, to question the Anderson line. I find it fascinating, really. True Ripperology. Then all the wedgies developed. So many guys gone. I hate that.

                          Roy

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Hi Roy,

                            He chose, instead, to do like Grant did about Shiloh. I would be the first to agree that modern day perceptions can misinterpret the lives of individuals from the past. Been on the front lines of that debate on occasion in other endeavors... but, as far as Sir Robert Anderson goes, he was controversial in his own times as well. Like it or not, that is his history. The problem has little to do with Anderson, but the personal conflicts between the people that debate him... with the addition of more folks with bias and agendas on both sides of the coin ready to throw gasoline on the fire. Maybe with the cost of gas skyrocketing again, there will be less incentive for some to tote a can of it around for such wasteful purposes.

                            You mentioned Silver. 'The Fox and the Flies' is an excellent example of a 'suspect book' that, while the Ripper part is implausible to me, was a well researched work about a fascinating criminal. Even though he thinks Silver was Joseph Isaacs, he provided pertinent information about Isaacs' whereabouts in the weeks following Kelly's murder - jail - and gave a very detailed account about the investigation and arrest of Isaacs.
                            Best Wishes,
                            Cris Malone
                            ______________________________________________
                            "Objectivity comes from how the evidence is treated, not the nature of the evidence itself. Historians can be just as objective as any scientist."

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              All sorts of issues being confused together here, so let’s step back a bit to the base cause of it, namely Martin Fido’s hotly contested claim is that Anderson’s religious beliefs would have precluded him from lying in public for personal or departmental kudos.

                              Inherent in this argument, but unstated by Martin, is the caveat that anyone is capable of stepping completely out of character and doing things one would never expect of them. This is unquestionably true, but before we can attribute anyone with doing such a thing we need evidence of him doing it. As I once rather clumsily expressed it, every Jew is capable of eating pork, something which their religion expressly forbids them from doing, and we may be able to cite examples of Jews tucking into a bacon Bagel, but that doesn’t mean that the huge majority of Jews will reject the Kashrut or Muslims Halal. Similarly, just because devout Christians lie doesn’t mean that Anderson would have done. We need examples of him doing it. And, of course, examples exist, but Martin acknowledges that Anderson would lie to achieve a greater good such as catching a bomber or to expose a murderer, but that out-and-out lying that the Ripper’s identity was known in a book for a general readership and just to claim kudos for himself or the C.I.D. would have been utterly alien to his beliefs and we cannot suppose that he would have done it without evidence or at least good, solid, reasoned argument to suggest otherwise.

                              Martin’s argument is based on a deep and thorough knowledge of the religious beliefs of the time. His speciality was the Victorian novel and since the Bible pervades Victorian novels, as it did Victorian society to a remarkable extent, Victorian religious belief is something Martin had to study. His conclusion about Anderson is therefore based on a long and deep knowledge which as far as I am aware most of us do not have (me included). How then can we challenge that conclusion when we don't understand the foundation on which it is based? That's why we fall back on the “everyone can lie” argument. It's neat, obviously true, and everyone can understand it. But it is also pretty worthless.

                              As to what Anderson believed, to understand his writings one needs to understand that he lived in a time of religious turmoil, at a time when the Scripture was being questioned, even doubted. Many of Anderson’s theological books were written in response to contemporary issues and often in direct response to specific critics (something to be remembered when reading his secular writings, an example being the suggestion I’ve made that the ‘definitely ascertained fact’ comment was in response to Mentor’s charge that there was no evidence that the suspect was a Jew). The Silence of God, mentioned by Robert above, is Anderson’s response to specific and general questions so often asked even today about why God doesn’t make his presence known when he is needed most or, more fatuously, when his existence is doubted? It’s a difficult question to answer, no matter who tries it. Anderson gave it a shot and probably didn't do a bad job.

                              But let’s move on to the general perception of Anderson believing bizarre things. Anderson was a Presbyterian - which is hardly wierd - but he didn't really adhere to any denomination. Presbyterians follow a Calvenistic theology which – and I am being wildly simplistic – believes in the authority of Scripture, that grace is received through Christ and that God rules all. Anderson, like many in his day, had rejected the organised church (you have to understand the time to understand why he and thousands of others did that) and along with many members of his family he joined an evangelical movement called the Plymouth Brethren, of which today there are two divisions and numerous sub-divisions. There is the Open and the Exclusive Brethren and a subset of the latter known as the Taylor/Hales group receives media attention because they exclude themselves from society, which they believe evil and corrupting by association, and the increasingly rigid strictures imposed by its (I think American) leadership has led to it being regarded by many as a cult, which to some extent has tainted the Brethren as a whole and perhaps contributed to the perception of Anderson as a religious crank. Anderson in fact had nothing to do with this offshoot, although the origins of the Exclusive Brethren can be traced back to a man named John Nelson Darby with whom Anderson did preach for a time. Anderson betrays no sign of isolationist beliefs, and, indeed, could not have done his job if he had). Furthermore, whilst he maintained a close affinity to the beliefs of the Brethren and would sometimes preach to them, he left them soon after his arrival in London.

                              What the Brethren believe is difficult to explain because it involves terms and expressions not normally in use, such as cessational, dispensational, millennial, tribulational, and so on. In essence and hopefully not too gross an oversimplification, they believe in the word of the Bible (what the Bible says is sacrosanct) and that the forecast second coming of Jesus Christ is imminent and will be preceded by certain things happening. Anderson’s belief in the imminent Second Coming is perhaps best illustrated by his efforts to defend the prophecies in the Book of Daniel. Daniel is supposed to have lived in the 6th century BC and foretold future events (the dates of them happening being controversial - see Anderson’s Daniel in the Critics Den and The Coming Prince). Scholars at the time Anderson wrote were generally agreed that the Book of Daniel was in fact written in the 6th century BC and that the prophecies are vaticinia ex eventu or “after the event”. Anderson argued that Daniel did live in the 2nd century and that his prophecies are genuine and yet to happen. Even today there are a lot of people who argue (and sometimes argue persuasively) that the rejection of the Book of Daniel is wrong and that both it and its prophecies demand attention.

                              Anderson therefore had a very deep-seated belief in Scripture and the dominance of God, and one has to see him against the background of the all pervading depth of Scripture in Victorian society. Understanding this perhaps helps to understand why lying about Jack the Ripper would have been anathema to Anderson.

                              Secondly, I have not written a suspect book and I do not believe that Anderson’s suspect was Jack the Ripper.

                              Thirdly, and this is egg-sucking teaching writ large (why, I wonder, is teaching someone to suck eggs a useful phrase to express the view that a person is teaching someone something they already know very well? I have absolutely no idea how to suck an egg, nor do I know why anyone would wish to do so – egg collectors? – but why would a grandmother suck eggs? Anyway…), history consists of sources which we should think of as data. Like data, the sources don’t mean anything until they are put together with other sources and put in context, and that is what the historian does. But, as much as the historian will try to divorce himself from his ’interpretation’, he does sometimes get in the way, hence a Whig interpretation or a Marxist interpretation or a Feminist interpretation or… Well, you get the idea. And that’s why historians can interpret the same data differently. The problem for us Ripperphiles is not so much interpreting the data according to our political or religious beliefs, but that very often we don’t have the necessary breadth or depth of knowledge to even interpret the data properly in the first place, which is when we fall back on experience and common sense. However, neither is a particularly reliable tool when assessing the past, and that is especially true when, as Chris has said above, there are people with personal conflicts, biases and agendas, all of which get in the way. This has happened a lot with regard to Anderson, who, again as Chris has pointed out, was controversial in his own day, let alone ours. H is a very difficult man to understand, especially as very little background research into his life has been done. We cannot really understand a man until we have walked in his moccasins, as I’m told the American Indians used to say, or, as L.P. Hartley so clearly expressed it, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

                              Here endeth the egg-sucking. I really must get out more...

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