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The Politics of Memory and Biography:
Contested Truths in Historical Narratives

Friday September 28, 9:15am – 10:15am

Moderator: Anne Guarnera, Spanish Fellow

Presenters:

Jacob Waldenmaier, High Point University
Doctor Dilettante: Fact and Fiction in Ron Paul’s Revolution

Verlan Lewis, University of Virginia
The Fallacy of Essential Ideological Constructs in American Political Science

Martin Fromm, Wheaton College
Layers of Fact, Fiction, and Memory in the Forging of Post-Socialist Chinese Identities


Abstracts:

Jacob Waldenmaier, High Point University
Doctor Dilettante: Fact and Fiction in Ron Paul’s Revolution

This paper examines the ways in which Ron Paul’s political campaign and supporters use economic, geo-political, and biographical facts to reinforce Paul’s maverick intellectual esteem reminiscent of objectivist protagonists in Ayn Rand’s dystopias. Thus construed, facts become so isolated and agenda-laden that the Ron Paul narrative resembles more closely that of a fictional hero. The paper will reference Ron Paul’s campaign strategy and rhetoric, Constitutional references, political theory, and use of economic jargon, but will also examine how they are received, imagined, and developed by his admirers, who sometimes inflate his image and manifest various degrees of pseudo-intellectualism. Paul Krugman and other detractors have highlighted ways in which Ron Paul is portrayed as an expert in subjects in which he has little or no formal training. Typical, for example, is the notation of Paul’s doctorate, a medical title conveyed as though it were relevant to his competence in history or economics. Ron Paul’s campaign, then, provides a paradigmatic example of fiction built from fact and supposition.


Verlan Lewis; Department of Politics, University of Virginia
The Fallacy of Essential Ideological Constructs in American Political Science

Over the past century, philosophers, historians, and social scientists, influenced by the “linguistic turn,” have increasingly abandoned attempts to define social constructs according to transcendent, universal, or essential meanings.  They recognize that language is fluid and constantly evolving, and that what a certain word means in one context will be different than what it means in a different place and time.  Within political science, scholars increasingly argue, for example, that racial and gender concepts are social constructs rather than universally valid concepts with essential meanings.  However, paradoxically, they do not recognize that ideological concepts are social constructs with no essential or universal meaning.  My paper will seek to demonstrate how ideological constructs like “conservative” and “liberal” are words that have taken on many different meanings in many different contexts over time.
Political scientists of all stripes frequently use terms like “conservative” and “liberal” as if they were referring to ideal Platonic forms with some essential meaning. My paper will focus on three subfields of American politics. Behavioral political scientists make this mistake when they make claims about the fundamental personality characteristics that underlie “conservatives” and “liberals.” Rational choice political scientists make this mistake when they make claims about the behavior of politicians with respect to an imaginary, fixed, two-dimensional ideological spectrum. Historians of political thought make this mistake when they make claims about the fundamental ideological consistency of American political parties. In each case, the conclusions these scholars draw confuse rather than clarify our understanding of American politics.


Martin Fromm, Wheaton College
Layers of Fact, Fiction, and Memory in the Forging of Post-Socialist Chinese Identities

This paper will examine the slippery space between historical and ideological fact/fiction and the production of memory in socialist and post-socialist China. In the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, the post-Mao state from its inception in 1978 sought to bring about national healing and political re-consolidation while reconciling the party’s rifted Communist identity with market reforms. One important site at which this process took place was the “wenshi ziliao” (literary and historical materials) project, in which the state mobilized local and personal memories to re-energize grassroots participation in the Four Modernizations campaign while enclosing those voices within a unified national framework. This paper will examine that process through the lens of an ideologically charged site of memory production, that of Chinese migrant enterprise and Sino-Russian border violence in former northern Manchuria at the turn of the last century. It explores the intricate relationship between eyewitness survivor accounts collected at the height of Sino-Russian border conflict in the early to mid 1960s, and the editing and publication of those testimonies within the transformed economic and political context of early post-Mao reforms. It argues that the juxtaposition between survivors’ accounts of expansive migrant enterprise and frontier settlement, and the editor’s reframing of their meaning in terms of the dichotomy between Chinese victim and imperialist aggressor, simultaneously exposed and contained the contradictions within the post-Mao state’s imperatives of political re-consolidation and economic liberalization. The processes by which this discourse took shape reveal the complex interactions between official historical truth/fiction, personal memory, and state mobilization as they contributed to shaping the early transitional stage of post-Mao reform.


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