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Appointment Denied : The Inquisition of Bertrand Russell

Weidlich, Thom

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ISBN 10: 1573927880 / ISBN 13: 9781573927888
Published by Prometheus Books
Used Condition: Very Good Hardcover
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First edition copy. . Very Good dust jacket. First Edition. Review slip laid-in. Bookseller Inventory # SB16A-00580

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Appointment Denied : The Inquisition of ...

Publisher: Prometheus Books

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:Very Good

Dust Jacket Condition: Dust Jacket Included

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title


In the spring of 1940 the Great Depression was still spreading misery throughout the world, and war in Europe threatened to drag America into the conflict. Amid these global troubles a tempest in a teapot was brewing on the island of Manhattan, where the board of the City College of New York had just appointed the renowned philosopher Bertrand Russell to teach. With the appointment of this most celebrated of philosophers, the board had intended to boost the school's image. Instead it found itself suddenly embroiled in a controversy involving the city's conservative Episcopal bishop, charges that it was encouraging radical and communist views at the college, and political in-fighting between the popular liberal mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, and corrupt Tammany Hall politicians with a hidden agenda.

Journalist Thom Weidlich masterfully reconstructs this major political imbroglio, which not only captured the attention of New Yorkers but very quickly received national coverage. As political theater, with both farcical and dramatic elements, the denial of Russell's appointment is interesting in and of itself: The sanctimonious and outraged Bishop Manning demands to know how the board could have chosen a man with such radical views on sex, marriage, and religion. Then, amazingly, a seemingly ordinary Brooklyn housewife files a lawsuit to stop Russell's appointment. Journalists begin to wonder, What is her motive? Is she being manipulated by Tammany Hall politicians and their rivalry with the liberal mayor? Before long civil libertarians are holding rallies at City College in defense of the philosopher and academic freedom. And for Russell this trying situation couldn't have come at a worse time with his funds running low and his third marriage falling apart.

But beyond its intrinsic interest, this 1940s' clash between an independent thinker and the guardians of public morality is still of the greatest relevance in light of today's cultural debates and arguments over standards of decency. Journalist Thom Weidlich has written an engrossing page-turner that brings recent history to life and makes us rethink the perennial issues of free thought and moral standards at publicly funded institutions.

From the Inside Flap:

In 1940, New York City's Board of Higher Education appointed noted British scholar Bertrand Russell, one of the greatest living philosophers of the day, to the faculty of the publicly funded City College. The board's intent in appointing such a celebrated writer and lecturer was to boost the school's image. Instead, it found itself in the midst of a firestorm when conservative and religious leaders throughout the city and indeed the country - aghast at Russell's unapologetic atheism and his popular writings on "free love" - unleashed a protest over the appointment that raged in the headlines for months.

Russell's appointment seemed to affect every faction in the city. At loggerheads was an amazing cast of characters, including leading politicians, clergymen, and intellectuals of the day. Liberal leaders and civil libertarians hoisted the flag of academic freedom. The City College students - the brilliant children of the city's poor, mostly Jewish immigrants - fought to have the great scholar come to their campus. The board that appointed Russell desperately tried to hang on to its autonomy and prestige.

Members of Tammany Hall - the notorious Manhattan Democratic political machine - and its satellites in the other boroughs used Russell's selection to get back at their nemesis, the reform mayor Fiorello La Guardia. When, in a bizarre twist, a Brooklyn housewife sued the board, the case came before a judge - with surprising results. Despite La Guardia's liberalism, his astute political sense and aspirations for higher office caused him to act in a way that stunned his supporters.

In 1940, the controversy was compared to the "monkey trial" of John Scopes, who was arrested for teaching evolution, and that of the famous Greek philosopher Socrates, who was sentenced to death for the same sins as Russell: impiety and corrupting the youth. Not unlike today's cultural debates over funding the National Endowment for the Arts and the Brooklyn Museum "Sensation" show, Russell's opponents insisted that the issue of his appointment was not one of free speech, but rather something that taxpayers didn't want to support.

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