Sunday, October 25, 2015

Gil Troy

Gil Troy has been a professor at McGill University since 1990. Maclean’s Magazine has repeatedly identified him as one of McGill’s “Popular Profs” and History News Network designated him one of its first “Top Young Historians.” His many books include Moynihan's Moment: America's Fight Against Zionism as Racism.

Troy's latest book is The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I just finished a wild, creative, self-proclaimed “philosophical rampage” by Ze’ev Maghen called Imagine: John Lennon and the Jews. More than a book about John Lennon or Jews, the book is really about the existential crisis facing modern America – and the West. The book dissects Lennon’s classic song “Imagine,” using that to symbolize much of what ails us.

Maghen is a charming, cranky particularist, who fears “Imagine”’s universalism, its faux cosmopolitanism. Maghen doesn’t want to live in a world with no countries and no loyalties and no tribes and no boundaries, which makes you just live for “today-ay-ay.” He believes that human beings need tribes, commitments, communities, stories, as frameworks that make them work together – and build a better world together, which is what Judaism seeks. The universalist all too often loves humanity abstractly, in theory not in practice. The particularist, the nationalist, the loyalist, has to learn to love his or her allies in real life. While, of course, that love can turn into xenophobia and bigotry, it is also the only real way to love truly.

In Maghen’s best riff, he talks about proposing to a young lady, starting with “I love you” but making that love Lennonist (not Leninist), saying “I love you as much as I love that waiter there, that woman here, etc.” If you universalize love you lose it.

Maghen’s work resonates with another influential book I read lately, Liquid Modernity. In it, the Polish-British sociologist Zygmunt Bauman diagnoses our modern malaise using the classic line from the Communist Manifesto, arguing that, under capitalism’s compulsive pressure to update, to change, “all that is solid melts into air, the sacred becomes profane.” Bauman argues that modernity’s defining condition, liquidity, dissolves ties, commitments, bonds, pushing us toward what Maghen might call “Imagine”’s universalist nightmare.

After reading Bauman, I started seeing relationships, families, politics, computers, technology, modern ideology, through this solid v. liquid, sacred v. profane lens, a lot more things about our times made sense. It inspired me in my book on Clinton and the 1990s to talk about the tension in America as we went from being a Republic of Something, having some core ideals, to a Republic of Nothing –liquid, adrift, so open our brains fall out – balanced, at least, by being a Republic of Everything, more open, welcoming, pluralistic than ever.

Our challenge becomes clear: Embracing all the openness in today’s magical world, while remaining rooted, grounded, anchored, standing for something not just believing in so much of everything it becomes nothing serious.
Visit Gil Troy's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: Moynihan's Moment.

My Book, The Movie: Moynihan's Moment.

My Book, The Movie: The Age of Clinton.

The Page 99 Test: The Age of Clinton.

--Marshal Zeringue