Morality and Expediency: The Folklore of Academic Politics

Morality and Expediency: The Folklore of Academic Politics

Morality and Expediency: The Folklore of Academic Politics

Morality and Expediency: The Folklore of Academic Politics

Excerpt

In a sentence which breathes the sobriety of his times Morgan wrote: 'There is enough, within the limits of the veritable, which is sufficiently remarkable, without entering the domain of fancy to produce a picture' (1868, p. 35). The judgement — about the American beaver — seems apt enough to one who reads his book on that ingenious animal, but it also gives rise to the thought that for all the imagination that seems to have gone into Ancient Society, Morgan himself never knowingly entered the 'domain of fancy' and would have disdained, in his scientific endeavours, to do so.As a naturalist, he allowed no place for myth.

As a student of society, he was no less straightforward. One senses the approval with which he wrote the following: 'Dissimulation was not an Indian habit.In fact, the language of the Iroquois does not admit of double speaking, or of the perversion of the words of the speaker.It is simple and direct, not admitting those shades of meaning and those nice discriminations which pertain to polished languages' (1962, p. 334). With all respect to the shade of Morgan, and with no knowledge whatsoever of the Iroquois language, that is very hard to swallow.The Iroquois of those times are known for their singularly successful political confederation.How does one run any political enterprise in a language that does not admit of dissimulation?

In his other life — as a lawyer and a politician — Morgan no doubt made the acquaintance of fancy and pretence and dissimulation and even fraud, and his biographers, Resek and Stern, both show him marginally involved in the egregious scandals of his time and place, not, certainly as a protagonist, but not, either, in a role where innocent unawareness could have been a possibility. 'The channels are devious.' he wrote 'It takes a politician to row the boat, which I am not' (Resek, p. 119). But Resek, the biographer, writing of an ingenious . . .

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