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Published on: November 28, 2011
NYT Slimes Romney

Here at Via Meadia, we have written extensively about how reports of impending American theocracy have been greatly exaggerated. Indeed, put into historical perspective, the religious forces acting upon American politics today are far gentler than those of generations past. But it appears that the New York Times remains unconvinced, as evidenced by a recent spate […]

Here at Via Meadia, we have written extensively about how reports of impending American theocracy have been greatly exaggerated. Indeed, put into historical perspective, the religious forces acting upon American politics today are far gentler than those of generations past. But it appears that the New York Times remains unconvinced, as evidenced by a recent spate of alarmist editorials about the faith of Mitt Romney.

This is not about Governor Romney, and it is not about the faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS).  Via Meadia takes no view at this early stage about the merits or demerits of the various candidates, and our inveterate Anglicanism gets in the way of embracing the Mormon faith.  But bigotry is something that needs to be fought in all its forms; unreasonable fears and prejudices based on religion will always be with us, but such fears belong in the gutter among the wackos, the haters and the tin-foil hat brigades on both the right and the left.  When they rise from the sewers and the swamps into mainstream publications and can be casually uttered in polite company by distinguished professors, something is going very wrong, and people who believe in the American way need to speak up.

Few religions have received as much public attention as Mormonism has—in the form of religious polemics, award-winning Broadway musicals, and general political punditry—yet remained so poorly understood. Alas, the NYT editorial page has decided to exacerbate this ignorance rather than combat it. Thus, a piece entitled “Will This Election be the Mormon Breakthrough?” by esteemed Yale professor Harold Bloom insinuates that Romney’s rise may be more than Americans have bargained for, and closes with a dark premonition: “[W]e are condemned to remain a plutocracy and oligarchy. I can be forgiven for dreading a further strengthening of theocracy in that powerful brew.”

As far as I can make out, Professor Bloom is more elitist misanthrope than bigot; his hatred and loathing for Mormonism is part of a broader and deeper disgust with almost everything that the common people think or do in the contemporary United States.  The essay drips with condescension and disdain; he hates and fears the Mormons not because they are different from most of their fellow citizens but because they are like them.  American Religion, as the professor calls the faiths that ordinary, non-elite Americans profess, is a toxic brew of death denial and mammon worship, and partly as a result American society is a grotesque oligarchical plutocracy.  As the professor concludes:

Mormonism’s best inheritance from Joseph Smith was his passion for education, hardly evident in the anti-intellectual and semi-literate Southern Baptist Convention. I wonder though which is more dangerous, a knowledge-hungry religious zealotry or a proudly stupid one? Either way we are condemned to remain a plutocracy and oligarchy. I can be forgiven for dreading a further strengthening of theocracy in that powerful brew.

Believing as I do that God is infinitely willing and able to forgive, I cannot disagree with this last assertion, but Mark Paredes, a Mormon and the LDS-Jewish relations blogger at the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles was not in a forgiving mood after reading Bloom’s piece. In the course of a hard-hitting critique, Paredes demonstrates the difference between rational political argument and bigotry in action:

If he [Bloom] doesn’t like Romney’s policies or positions, he’s free to enunciate his reasons for opposing him without slamming the candidate’s faith. Raising the specter of a “strengthening of theocracy” in this “plutocracy” and “oligarchy” is both irresponsible and unworthy of a writer and thinker of his caliber. After all, many Mormons have served as governors, senators, and cabinet members. Surely the good professor can cite an example of a Mormon in high office who has attempted to use it as a platform to promote his religion.

Let us not, as that great Anglican heroine Queen Elizabeth I put it, make windows in men’s souls to see what is within.  I say nothing about the motives of Professor Bloom or the New York Times.  But so far as I know, neither has ever expressed any concern over the stout Mormon faith of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  If creeping Mormonism is a threat to our secular way of life, shouldn’t we be critical of those in both parties who are members of this allegedly terrifying church?

There are scores of other Mormon congressmen and elected officials from both parties who escape the censure of Professor Bloom and the Times.  The only one who seems to worry them is the one who might end up getting the Republican nomination for president.  In some circles, this would look like a cheap shot: stirring up religious bigotry to slime a candidate you feared.  It would look like the kind of thing that any Yale professor would be ashamed to do, and the kind of piece that a great newspaper would refuse to run.

There is no doubt that Professor Bloom’s feline essay includes passages that promote bigotry.  As he writes:

There are other secrets also, not tellable by the Mormon Church to those it calls “Gentiles,” oddly including Jews. That aspects of the religion of a devout president of the United States should be concealed from all but 2 percent of us may be a legitimate question that merits pondering.

May be a legitimate question?”  Professor: it is or it isn’t.  If it is, you should have the guts to say so and stop hiding behind the qualifier.  If it isn’t, you have no business mentioning it at all.  Sly demagoguery demeans Professor Bloom and the New York Times.  The innuendo continues a little farther down the page:

The 19th-century Mormon theologian Orson Pratt, who was close both to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, stated a principle the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never repudiated: “Any people attempting to govern themselves by laws of their own making, and by officers of their own appointment, are in direct rebellion against the kingdom of God.”

Secret doctrines, disloyal to democracy, theocratic plots?  Interestingly, Bloom does not bother to introduce a single piece of evidence to show that Governor Romney is more dangerous than Senator Reid.  He slimes the one and ignores the other for reasons that no doubt seem good and just to him and his conscience is untroubled and serene.  He offers no evidence whatever to link Governor Romney to any theocratic conspiracy, or even to show that Romney agrees with Orson Pratt.  (It would, by the way, be easy to find statements from Protestant, Catholic and Jewish theologians saying much the same thing as Mr. Pratt.)  This is very, very low and it is more than surprising that the Times has permitted itself to sink this far.

Mitt Romney may or may not have what it takes to get the Republican nomination and be elected President of the United States.  His religious faith is, in my judgment, wrong on key points.  But the suggestion that he will turn the United States into anything like a theocracy is ludicrous.  Last I looked, you still needed majorities in both Houses of Congress to pass laws, and super majorities in Congress and of the states to amend the Constitution.  There are six million or so Mormons in the United States, and they don’t all agree about politics.  Calm down, Professor Bloom; Mitt Romney isn’t going to make you wear special underwear or undergo secret temple ceremonies.

Joseph Smith

If anything, the fact that a Mormon is a leading candidate for the nomination of a party which captures most of the evangelical vote shows just how far from theocracy this country remains.  America is full of strongly religious people, but the religions they profess are so different in so many key respects that theocracy simply isn’t a realistic option here.  Evangelicals don’t want a liberal theocracy; Catholics don’t want a Protestant theocracy; African Americans don’t want a white theocracy and so it goes.

Mr. Bloom need not worry; the republic will survive Mitt Romney should an inscrutable Providence decide to place him in the White House.  He will neither legalize polygamy nor ban coffee.  And he will keep his secret doctrines and his temple ceremonies where they belong: in the sphere of private faith.  Whether he or the party he hopes to lead deserve the White House is another matter, but like most Americans I have never voted for or against a political candidate for sectarian reasons and in 2012 I propose to continue doing exactly that.

show comments
  • Larry, San Francisco

    He doesn’t like Harry Potter either.

    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1530857

    Kind of a crank.

  • Anthony

    “…But bigotry is something that needs to be fought in all its forms; unreasonable fears and prejudices based on religion will always be with us….” WRM, you are correct NYT and cited professor have mixed political inclination with objective reportage.

    To quote Mortimer J. Adler (Truth In Religion: The Plurality Of Religions And The Unity Of Truth), “wherever reasonable men can reasonably disagree, as they can about questions of political expediency or about economic options, their decision in favor of one or another alternative is a preference that closely resembles preferences in what are more obviously matters of taste.”

    Are sectarian matters of taste being expressed by both NYT and professor Bloom WRM under guise of inauspicious changes in American governance?

  • Kohl Haas

    He may be “distinguished” and “esteemed” but the question remains “by whom?” This is just more evidence of the decline and corruption in the Ivy League – which is incapable of recognizing its own failure.

    I disagree with Mark Paredes – Bloom’s comments are exactly worthy of a writer and thinker of his caliber; it’s the caliber that is unworthy of any audience except, evidently, the readers of the Times.

  • Alan Harris

    Another excellent piece. I am Mormon. On a number of occasions, other have explained to me, sometimes in harsh terms, why Mormons (not just their religion) are objectionable.

    I am saddened by similar attacks on any religion. Such bigotry erodes tolerance of others religion and indirectly threatens our own religious freedom. I have lived on four different continents. That experience has convinced me that America became a beacon of freedom largely because of its freedom of conscience.

  • WigWag

    Walter Russell Mead Slimes Harold Bloom

    Professor Mead’s reaction to the Bloom op-ed can be described in one word; hysterical. There is nothing bigoted about Bloom’s description of Mormonism and he doesn’t offer any criticisms of the LDS church that he doesn’t suggest apply with equal force to other religions. Like Christopher Hitchens who Bloom cites with approval, Harold Bloom is a self-avowed atheist; specifically he describes himself as a “secularist with Gnostic proclivities.” As an atheist, Bloom doesn’t hold any religion in particularly high regard; if Professor Mead objects to that, it’s simply too bad. As a theoretical construct, Bloom’s atheism isn’t any more intolerant than Mead’s Anglicanism or the intolerance inherent in virtually any form of organized religious belief. Let’s remember that for centuries, Professor Mead’s church has insisted that atheists like Bloom or Jews like me cannot possibly get into heaven and are headed straight for eternal damnation.

    The paragraph that clinches the deal on Professor Mead’s total ignorance about Bloom is this one,

    “Let us not, as that great Anglican heroine Queen Elizabeth I put it, make windows in men’s souls to see what is within. I say nothing about the motives of Professor Bloom or the New York Times. But so far as I know, neither has ever expressed any concern over the stout Mormon faith of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. If creeping Mormonism is a threat to our secular way of life, shouldn’t we be critical of those in both parties who are members of this allegedly terrifying church?”

    Professor Mead’s implication is clear-Bloom objects to Romney’s religion because Romney is a right wing Republican while he gives the left wing Democratic Mormon a pass.

    Perhaps Professor Mead is unaware of it, but Harold Bloom is absolutely despised on the left and has been for the better part of a quarter century. Bloom has been an active culture warrior for decades and he fights on the side of the right in opposition to the academic left. Bloom excoriates political correctness, he trashes multiculturalism and he dismisses the left’s inclination to analyze literature from a Marxist or gender specific point of view. In short, he is the pied piper of dead white authors starting with Shakespeare, Marlowe and Cervantes all the way down to Walt Whitman, Hart Crane and Wallace Stevens. Bloom enraged the left when he published his book “The Western Canon” which excluded progressive darlings like Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou who Bloom correctly labels as “hacks.”

    The idea that Bloom rips Romney to shreds because he is a right-wing Mormon while ignoring Harry Reid because he is a left-wing Mormon is simply too dumb for words. It shows a shocking ignorance of who Harold Bloom is.

    Walter Russell Mead owes Harold Bloom an apology.

    Oh-one more thing; Professor Mead says,

    “Mr. Bloom need not worry; the republic will survive Mitt Romney should an inscrutable Providence decide to place him in the White House. He will neither legalize polygamy nor ban coffee.”

    It’s not “Mr. Bloom” Professor Mead; it may be Mr. Mead, but it is “Dr. Bloom.”

  • ErisGuy

    The NYT’s hatred–we need to make anti-Mormon as common as anti-Semitic–is the best reason to vote Romney.

    “Dr. Bloom.”

    His long record has effaced that term of respect.

  • Kristen

    Wigwag – Not in America it isn’t. Only MDs are called Dr socially. Formally, PhD are called mister, desite what the holders of doctorates may desire. The rest of your post is as wrong. Are you really Mr. Bloom’s sockpuppet?

    As to Bloom’s atheism, so what? Does being a democrat make KKK membership less racist?

  • section9

    Methinks WigWag is simply too embarrassed by Bloom’s hit piece on Romney to do anything other than go on the kind of tear against Mead that one would read from an MMFA “fellow” (yes, I used the scare quotes deliberately).

    Bloom is a lefty hack who went after Romney because it is possible, although doubtful, that Romney could beat Obama. Bloom has no problems with Harry Reid because Reid is a liberal Democrat and a member in good standing of the Progressive Looter Community.

    Please stop rationalizing a squalid hit piece, Wiggy. Mead’s right on this one.

  • craig

    WigWag says:

    “Professor Mead’s implication is clear-Bloom objects to Romney’s religion because Romney is a right wing Republican while he gives the left wing Democratic Mormon a pass. … It shows a shocking ignorance of who Harold Bloom is.”

    It’s not “Mr. Bloom” Professor Mead; it may be Mr. Mead, but it is “Dr. Bloom.”’

    Oh, get off the fainting couch. Your rebuttals amount to the most infantile DYKWIA and effete credentialism possible. Note that you never actually answered the objection. Show me a quote of Bloom’s decrying candidates on the Left for being closet theocrats, and then we can talk.

    If he is incapable of setting a leg or lancing a boil, then he can damn well learn to like ‘Mr.’ Bloom.

  • Josh S

    Wigwag, do you think the NYT would have published the editorial if it had swapped out “Mitt Romney” for “Harry Reid”?

  • Mike M.

    WigWag: “Professor Mead’s implication is clear-Bloom objects to Romney’s religion because Romney is a right wing Republican while he gives the left wing Democratic Mormon a pass.”

    Just how “right wing” Romney really is appears to be a matter of some debate, as most right wingers don’t appear to trust him. That’s why he’s the weakest party front runner the republicans have had in decades.

    And after all, just how right wing can a guy be if he can manage to get elected governor of Massachusetts? The last time I checked, Massachusetts was one of the most liberal states in the country, if not the most.

    But however vague and undefined Romney’s true political positions may be, they don’t truly matter to the New York Times. He has the dreaded label “republican”, and for the Times that is enough. The fact that even one republican exists in America is something they simply can’t tolerate.

  • ThomasD

    This NYT article is another example of what passes for the heart of the Democrat party. A collection of elitists who, fearing and loathing the demos, the common man, decide it is they who must be the one’s who shall rule over them. All the while claiming it is they who truly represent the interests of the otherwise despised rabble.

  • matthew49

    At least Mormonism is the one American religion, rooted in the USA. It is inconceivable that a Mormon would have any allegiance or identification with a foreign country or civilization based on his religion. Our current president, who perhaps is not theologically a Muslim, nevertheless has shown repeatedly and consistently that he has a great deal of affection and respect for Islamic civilization, but not much affection and respect for American civilization. Perhaps the New York Times should do an article on that topic.

  • Demosthenes

    Two responses to WigWag:

    First, fighting against “the academic left” does not mean that one is fighting for “the right.” Bloom would be a political conservative only in an astonishingly left-wing country.

    Second, I actually went through the piece. WRM refers to Harold Bloom as “Professor Bloom” six times (an accepted form of address for one who holds an academic post). He also refers to him as “the professor,” just plain “Professor,” and “esteemed Yale professor Harold Bloom” one time each…and twice by his last name only.

    The number of times Harold Bloom is referred to as “Mr. Bloom”? Just ONCE.

    Setting aside the issue that any adult male in a polity of free and equal citizens should be honored to be regarded as “Mister,” I can only conclude that you were really looking for things to slam Mead. You have failed quite perfectly.

  • JJ

    This is just a sample, people. This is why the NYT et al. so desperately want Romney to be the GOP nominee; they already have their arsenal filled with anti-Mormon fear / uncertainty / doubt hit pieces. If he’s the nominee we will be bombarded for the next year with History Channel documentaries and 60 Minutes scandal revelations about the LDS. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

  • Kevin R.C. O’Brien

    Re: “It would look like the kind of thing that any Yale professor would be ashamed to do, and the kind of piece that a great newspaper would refuse to run.”

    Is it possible that your faith in the Yale professoriate is misplaced? I know little and care less about Mormon belief and ritual, but through what alchemy do you absolve Bloom of the charge of bigotry? Bloom invites the charge himself, he all but places the crown on his own head. He may be shambling, tripping and half-stepping, but the trend of his slouching progress is towards a Final Solution to what he imagines is a Mormon Problem.

    So Bloom is a repulsive individual, and the NYT has set this would-be Julius Streicher of the Mormons on its target du jour, with its usual myopic zeal for its particular team in what it has in lieu of sport pages. It’s all crushingly routine. The only question is, is Bloom an outlier among the Yale faculty or mantled in its median mainstream? I think we know the answer to that.

    They’re all against bigotry, unless it’s against the people all “right-thinking” people dislike. You know, like people with religions that have doctrines illogical to unbelievers, unless their religions are properly “authentic,” meaning third-world and bloodthirsty.

  • http://www.dougsanto.com Doug Santo

    Nice piece.

    Doug Santo
    Pasadena, CA

  • dicentra

    Bloom’s excoriation of Mormonism is especially odd given that he was fairly complimentary of the LDS faith in his book “The American Religion,” still available on Amazon.

    I heard him give a presentation on Mormonism at the U of Utah further to the publication of that book in which he credited Joseph Smith with a remarkable “religious imagination” (from Bloom, the equivalent of being an inspired poet) and found many aspects of the LDS faith to be quite sublime.

    But then, this was the early 1990s, before our politics got so polarized that it one risks losing all one’s friends and associates for wearing the wrong team jersey.

    As for the allegedly missing honorifics, the AP style guide holds that when referring to POTUS, the term “President X” is used in the first instance and then it’s “Mr. X” thereafter. Why more deference should be paid to a mere PhD in literature is beyond me.

  • Demosthenes

    BTW, here are some quotes to back up that first point — that Harold Bloom is by no means a conservative, or a member of “the right” in any political sense:

    “What I call the American Religion, and by that I mean nearly all religions in this country, socially manifests itself as the Emancipation of Selfishness. Our Great Emancipator of Selfishness, President Ronald Reagan, refreshingly evaded the rhetoric of religion, but has been appropriated anyway as the archangel of American spiritualized greed.”

    “Obsessed by a freedom we identify with money, we tolerate plutocracy as if it could someday be our own ecstatic solitude.”

    “A dark truth of American politics in what is still the era of Reagan and the Bushes is that so many do not vote their own economic interests. Rather than living in reality they yield to what oddly are termed ‘cultural’ considerations: moral and spiritual, or so their leaders urge them to believe. Under the banners of flag, cross, fetus, exclusive marriage between men and women, they march onward to their own deepening impoverishment. Much of the Tea Party fervor merely repeats this gladsome frolic.”

    “I am moved by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations…”

    Yeah…Harold Bloom may or may not be at war with “the academic left,” but in terms of “the political left” I’d say he’s quite comfortably at home.

  • jordan

    Bigotry dressed up with pseudo-substantive academic jargon is still bigotry. There’s nothing in Romney’s record that suggests he’s interested at all in “theocracy.”

    Isn’t Jon Huntsman also a Mormon? Funny, his Mormonism doesn’t seem to rattle the libs as much as Romney’s Mormonism. As for the quote on obeying laws made by man, Orrin Hatch and Harry Reid are two Mormons in a position to actually make law. This doesn’t seem to bother Bloom.

    I mean, Dr. Bloom. He’s worked so hard for that title….

  • Scott

    This piece is an excellent example of why I find your postings so invigorating. You have, from what I can tell, an elite background (even though you now live in Queens). Yet you so ably call out each “elitist misanthrope” at every opportunity.

    Too many elites love to engage in looking down on or lampooning the Walmart crowd (or in this case, Mormons) as though their words were just good fun instead of a deeply held bigotry. Thank you for continuing to call them on it.

  • Orson Scott Card

    The Mormon Church has repeatedly made statements that directly contradict Orson Pratt’s statement about laws, as the Mormon Church officially refuses to support or oppose any party or candidate and does not allow its meetinghouses, membership rolls, or meetings to be used for political purposes.

    The Mormon Church thrives in many nations having nothing to do with American politics (more Mormons speak Spanish as their native language than English). The Mormon Church cooperates with all governments, and seeks to control none of them.

    Mormon leaders do not enrich themselves; most Mormon clergy are not paid at all, and those that are paid earn little more than a mid-level businessman. The Church’s tithing “wealth” is not at the disposal of any individual. It is used entirely for the Church’s tax-exempt purposes: building meetinghouses, publishing religious books and other media, and providing relief to the poor.

    Bloom’s fear of “plutocracy” or of some conspiracy to take over the U.S. government has nothing to do with Mormonism as it actually exists in the real world.

    What is fascinating to me is that Yale University provides a harbor for someone as delusional and as careless of fact as Bloom.

  • Seth B Tillman

    “Windows in men’s souls” ascribed to Elizabeth I? Wasn’t that Francis Bacon?

    http://tinyurl.com/dxps8jj

    Seth

  • Rob Huck

    WigWag,

    Secular doesn’t mean “atheist” — it means, genearlly, being separate from religion. The bigger hypocrisy is his issue that “aspects of the religion of a devout president of the United States should be concealed from all but 2 percent of us may be a legitimate question that merits pondering.”

    Yet Gnosticism, of which he has written extensively and thoughtfully, is by definition a practice or code that provides intuitive knowledge of the divine. It’s a highly elitist doctrine which suggests that not everyone is capable of possessing or aquiring “gnosis”.

    In other words, he’s a fan of a religious concept that conceals truth to the vast majority of people, except when he’s not the one doing the concealing.

    A disappointing piece from Bloom.

  • Duncan Frissell

    So why do you suppose the Wikipedia entry linked above lists Mormon officeholders but the Wikipedia entry on the Episcopal Church doesn’t list Episcopal officeholders. I sense a conspiracy…

  • Vader

    “Mitt Romney isn’t going to make you wear special underwear…”

    I have never understood the perverse fascination with other people’s underclothing that characterizes so much anti-Mormon bigotry.

  • http://www.jimsjournal.com Jim

    “This is very, very low and it is more than surprising that the Times has permitted itself to sink this far.”

    It’s the New York Times.

    I’m not surprised at all.

  • http://krandle.com/kstreetjournal Kristen Randle

    I have not read the Bloom piece. I eschew “hit pieces” on anybody from any side. My husband found the article then this response. The response interested me. And the comments interest me. All but one, which echoes the pompous tone I felt in the bits quoted out of Bloom’s writing. I can’t judge the whole, of course, not having read it. What I want to say is this: I am LDS. “Mormon,” if you will. And I am very familiar with the (cue scary music) “secret rites” of the temple. Even writing that makes me laugh. It is a very basic response for LDS people to explain: “secret” is not the appropriate word. “Sacred” is.

    The temple is a quiet, solemn place where we make promises on a very personal level. The promises would shock you – because they are so utterly normal. We promise thing having to do with striving to be better people: to be honest, to be kind, to be selfless. We say deep and earnest prayers for people who are suffering. We remember our ancestors. We strengthen our commitment of our marriage and love and faithfulness.

    Are you frightened yet?

    Why would anyone want to open themselves up so deeply, speaking of the things that move them to live lives on honest service, honest love for God in front of people like Bloom?

    I smile to think that we heap such instant trust and respect on people who have PhDs. There’s a sort of Emperor’s New Clothes glamour to the title, I guess. I’ve known a lot of them. They all put their pants on one leg at a time – if they can remember where they left their pants in the first place. My father, who once built the largest airport in the world, refused to hire a man with that kind of credential – observing that such people tended to have a very narrow range of knowledge, but a very wide pride that made them impossible to work with.

    Ah, well. Thank you for this moments diversion. If I vote for Mitt Romney, and I haven’t decided yet – it won’t be because he’s LDS. It will be because I have been convinced he’s the best man for the job. And as I say, the jury is still out on that.

  • Person of Choler

    JJ (15) Has it nailed: Given Obama’s record, he can only campaign by trashing his opponent. Romney is the near-presumptive Republican nominee and the NYT and the rest of Obama’s Little Helpers are girding up for the trashing. Mormonism is the handiest stick for whacking Romney and so it begins.

  • Marty

    And so the sliming begins–this is the REAL reason why Palin, Daniels, Christie and others didn’t run, they chose not to subject themselves and their families to the unspeakably vile campaign that would be unleashed on them. Palin’s experience in 2008-09 is an object lesson that the reptiles and vermin (sorry that sounds over the top, but it is actually restrained) of the left media used successfully to discourage conservatives from running.

    I trust Romney knew what he was in for when he chose to run, and he and his family are prepared.

  • http://americandigest.org vanderleun

    Mead consistently runs versions of this disclaimer: ” I say nothing about the motives of Professor Bloom or the New York Times.”

    And this repeated plaint always puts me in mind of a passage from Poe’s “THE CONQUEROR WORM:”

    “Through a circle that ever returneth in
    To the self-same spot,
    And much of Madness, and more of Sin
    And Horror the soul of the plot.”

  • John C. Randolph

    I couldn’t care less about Romney’s religion. What I care about is his depraved indifference to human suffering:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NY6UTnS6Z-A

    That man should never be trusted with governmental power, period.

    -jcr

  • WigWag

    Note to Kristen (November 29, 2011 at 8:35)

    The correct way to refer to the holder of a Ph.D. is “Dr.” There is a reason the “Ph.D.” is referred to as a doctoral degree and the person who obtains one is considered to have obtained a “doctorate.” When Ph.D.s go on to obtain postgraduate training, they are routinely described as doing “postdoctoral” work. The correct formal way to address a Ph.D. either verbally or in writing is as “Dr.” You don’t have to like the convention and you don’t have to follow it, but it is what it is.

    Note to section9 (November 29, 2011 at 8:42)

    If you think Harold Bloom is a “lefty hack” you simply don’t know anything about him. He is neither a “lefty” nor a “hack.” My suggestion is that you change your moniker from “section9″ to “section8.”

    Note to Josh S (November 29, 2011 at 8:46)

    Josh, I have no idea whether the New York Times would have published a similar op-ed about Harry Reid; if forced to guess, I would tend to doubt that they would. In fairness, running for President is not the same as running for majority leader of the Senate. The President is elected by tens of millions of American voters; the Senate majority leader is elected by a simple majority of the Senators from the political party that controls the Senate. Expecting a similar level of scrutiny for the two positions is just silly. In any case, I didn’t say anything defending the Times; I limited by remarks to criticizing Professor Mead’s remarks about Bloom.

    Note to Demosthenes (November 29, 2011 at 9:44)

    You make a good point when you say that it takes a political culture as twisted as ours for Bloom to be considered a political conservative. In today’s day and age true liberals are political or cultural conservatives who are detested by the left. Harold Bloom is a liberal and he is detested by the left. As for your second point, see my response to Kristen above.

    Note to Rob Huck (November 29, 2011at 11:04)

    I think your comment is very interesting. For your information, Professor Bloom has described himself in various places as both an “atheist” and a “secularist with Gnostic proclivities.” Your point about Gnosticism and esoteric knowledge is an interesting one but as far as I know, none of our presidential candidates has ever professed to be a follower of any of the Gnostic heresies.

    But there is a better example that proves your point. A number of America’s greatest Presidents were Freemasons. Here’s the list: George Washington, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Howard Taft, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Gerald Ford.

    While Freemasonry is not exactly a religious movement, it is a faux-religious movement that is chock full of esoterica and secret rituals. Most or all of these rituals are hidden from the public but that didn’t compromise the performance of Washington, Monroe, Jackson either Roosevelt or Truman.
    The performance of these Freemason Presidents is strong evidence that Bloom got it wrong.

    I never objected to criticism of Bloom’s thesis; I objected to the hysterical comments that Professor Mead made about the Bloom piece and to Mead’s “sliming” of Bloom.
    Having read quite a bit of Professor Bloom’s work I think that he is prone to exaggeration. But given Professor Mead’s proclivity to exaggerate and the frequency with which his invective goes way over the top, it is a mystery to me why Bloom’s piece about Romney so discomforted Mead’s delicate disposition.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Wigwag: The convention is actually a bit different; none of my professors at Yale when I studied there or my colleagues when I taught there wanted to be addressed as “Doctor”. It was either professor in class or socially mister. I have always understood this to be the case at Harvard and most of the Ivies as well. It is also true in my experience at both Cambridge and Oxford. The use of the doctor title comes from the German university tradition and many US institutions strongly conscious of their Anglo and colonial roots resist it.

  • craig

    WigWag doubles down: “The correct formal way to address a Ph.D. either verbally or in writing is as “Dr.”

    “Waiter” also works in many instances.

  • WigWag

    “It is also true in my experience at both Cambridge and Oxford.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    That is true; faculty with Ph.D.s are never referred to as “Dr.” in Great Britain (or Australia for that matter) but the entire system of academic ranking in Great Britain is different than ours. In the United States there are typically only three academic ranks; Professor, Associate Professor or Assistant Professor (with various lesser titles for non-tenure track positions such as postdoctoral fellow, lecturer or adjunct professor). In Great Britain the titles are different with the title of Professor reserved for only the top of the top of the academic profession. Many full Professors in the United States would never attain the title of “Professor” at Oxford or Cambridge. The difference in titles between Great Britain and the United States doesn’t end there; for example, what we call a “provost”, they call a “rector.”

    Your experience is entirely different than mine: I would never address even a junior faculty member at Yale with a Ph.D. as “Mr.” either in writing or verbally. The Yale School of Medicine, with which I am quite familiar, has many professors who hold the Ph.D. degree (but without an M.D.). None of them would ever say anything if I referred to them as “Mr.” but I have no doubt that they would consider it quite odd.

    As far as Harvard, Princeton, MIT or Bard I think it would be highly unusual to introduce a faculty member with a Ph.D. who was presenting at an academic conference as “Mr.” Jones or “Mr.” Smith. I think it would be entirely normal to introduce that faculty member as either Professor Jones or Smith or Dr. Jones or Smith.

    I also call your attention to the manner in which Ph.D.s are referred to outside the academic community. Practicing psychologists (psychiatrists have MDs, psychologists don’t) are always introduced as “Dr.” not “Mr.” The same is true for Ph.D. scientists working for pharmaceutical companies.

    The only time I think it is considered appropriate not to refer to a Ph.D. as “Dr.” is when that person prefers to be called “Mr.” or has completely abandoned the field in which his/her degree has been conferred. Newt Gingrich has a doctorate in history but it would be appropriate to refer to him as Mr. Gingrich rather than Dr. Gingrich. Of course on rare occasion we can even refer to people who have never earned a M.D. or a Ph.D. as doctor as fans of the Philadelphia 76ers “Dr. J.” can attest.

    I am sure that when you see Peter Berger you call him by his first name but I think it would be entirely out of line and somewhat rude for someone who was not on a first name basis with him to refer to him as “Mr.” Berger instead of “Dr.” Berger.

  • Nate Whilk

    Good grief. A replay of the “JFK will take orders from the Pope” nonsense from almost 50 YEARS AGO!

    Wigwag wrote, “Perhaps Professor Mead is unaware of it, but Harold Bloom is absolutely despised on the left and has been for the better part of a quarter century…The idea that Bloom rips Romney to shreds because he is a right-wing Mormon while ignoring Harry Reid because he is a left-wing Mormon is simply too dumb for words. It shows a shocking ignorance of who Harold Bloom is.”

    That’s who Bloom WAS, up until now. So he’s has adopted a different position. SO. WHAT. Are you saying that’s impossible? It’s prima facie true. If you think otherwise, THAT, sir (or madam), is shocking and willful ignorance.

  • Hale Adams

    Yeesh. WigWag would be well-served by remembering what the various letter-groups assigned to academic degrees truly mean:

    BS — Bull S—
    MS — More of the Same
    PhD — Piled higher and Deeper

    (Yes, I know, it’s an ancient joke.)

    I hold a BS in Mechanical Engineering. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve learned more about engineering in the 26 years since I graduated than I did in the four years that I was in school– and I’ve hardly worked in the field, having always found something else to do.

    Two people in my immediate family hold PhD’s in economics, and at least seven people in my extended family hold (or held) medical degrees of one kind or another. Guess what, WigWag– they put their trousers on the same way you and I do: one leg at a time.

  • H Bloom

    Please call me Doctor.

    I didn’t spend four years in Evil Medical School to be called Mister.

  • http://abev.wordpress.com john f.

    This essay is a great response to Bloom’s disappointing NYT opinion piece.

    As to the tangent, when I was a graduate student at Oxford, professors were called Dr. if they had a D.Phil or Ph.D. and Professor only if they held a named professorship. Meanwhile, lecturers or fellows who had a master’s degree but not a doctorate were referred to as Mr. or Ms. (and it implied no disrespect at all). But I never looked into the actual conventions at play and just sort of picked up the practice through observation. I only mention this because although Professor Mead’s explanation in comment #34 persuasively appeals to historical reference points, it does not reflect what I observed as a student at Oxford.

  • David Taylor, MD

    Prof. Mead’s experiences at Oxford and Cambridge differ from mine, apparently. I have long noted that the British are more likely than Americans to refer to anyone with a PhD as “Doctor”, and they often do so outside of academic settings. There may be several sources of this difference, including, as Wig Wag noted, the fact that the title “Professor” is normally restricted to a single individual in a department or program, and everyone else is a Reader or Lecturer, etc. Second, many Oxbridge academics do not have doctorates, many more so than in the U.S., which over-produces PhDs, and I have also assumed, over many years of working in Oxbridge colleges, that the title “Doctor” is a not-so-subtle way of distinguishing oneself from Fellows who lack that degree.

    On the other hand, Prof. Mead’s experience at Yale parallels mine at Harvard: faculty often use “Mister” instead of “Doctor”, but this is not standard in U.S. academia, and may have roots similar to the use of “Mister” for surgeons in the U.K., a kind of reverse snobbery in which surgeons historically regarded themselves as superior to lowly medical doctors, and mark that difference by a refusal to use the “Doctor” title. Which has an irony not lost, even in a legal sense, on American physicians: British physicians are called “Doctor” but normally do not have doctorates, and instead qualify through their undergraduate degree, a bachelor of medicine degree. In the U.K. “Doctor” is a job title like “Plumber” or “Taxi Driver”, not a degree qualification as in the U.S.

    To bring this back to Harold Bloom, my general policy is to use an academic title for an individual who is representing him- or herself in an academic mode. If Harold Bloom’s NYT’s essay was written by and as Prof. Harold Bloom, then I have no hesitation in referring to him as Prof. Bloom or Dr. Bloom, though an English Lit professor pontificating about presidential politics has only about as much credibility as I would have. If Bloom is standing in line at a local pizza place and is asked his name with his take-out order, I assume that he’d be Hal, or Harold or Mr. Bloom, and presumably even the hoary Bloom would recognize that it would be overly pompous to give the name “Professor Bloom” when dropping his car off for an oil change. (As a cardiologist who also has a PhD, I am called “Dave” by many of my patients who have chronic cardiovascular disease and see me over a number of years.)

  • http://independentobservations.wordpress.com Paul

    To site Orson Pratt as authoritative source of Mormon Doctrine exposes an intentional misrepresentation of Mormon Theology. Dr. Bloom undoubtedly knows that only the leader of the LDS Church, of which I am a member, has the authority to declare doctrine. In reality, the authoritative doctrine about governments is quite the opposite of Mr. Pratt’s obscure (19th century!) reference.

    Within the Mormon Canon of scripture, it is affirmed that governments are ordained of God for the benefit of man (Doctrine and Covenants 134); that we believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law (Articles of Faith 12); that God is the author of the US Constitution (D&C 101:80) at least in the same way He “authored” scripture.

    After being driven out of the United States because of religious intolerance and establishing a city in the Utah desert, Governor and Prophet Brigham Young had a parade in which the youth marched holding copies of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence with reverence(Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, 95-107).

    Anyone who knows enough about Mormonism to know who Orson Pratt is is surely aware of at least some of what we actually believe regarding government.

  • Demosthenes

    WigWag:

    I was actually trying to be polite above, but now I have to say this — and I speak as someone who is aspiring toward the title in question:

    Just because Jim Jameson holds a doctorate does NOT mean he MUST be referred to as “Dr. Jameson.” “Prof. Jameson” is perfectly acceptable as a colloquialism, and if he’s on the street, I’ll call him “Mr. Jameson” if I please, whether I know he has a degree or not. The same goes if I’m writing an article, or a blog post, or anything else.

    Your having earned a degree entitles you to use a particular honorific, and to have it used about you. But it does not obligate anyone else to actually use it. And BTW, you are NOT the arbiter of proper references to academics. Stop the lecture, Mister.

  • WigWag

    “Your having earned a degree entitles you to use a particular honorific, and to have it used about you. But it does not obligate anyone else to actually use it.” (Demosthenes)

    That’s fine. As I said in my comment (#33 at November 29, 2011 at 3:05 pm), “The correct formal way to address a Ph.D. either verbally or in writing is as “Dr.” You don’t have to like the convention and you don’t have to follow it, but it is what it is.”

    Congratulations by the way on your aspiration for the Ph.D. It’s a wonderful goal and I hope you achieve it. Of course when you do, your degree will be as a “Doctor of Philosophy” not a “Mister of Philosophy.”

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Mitt Romney, during the time he was starting his own company, accepted a calling to serve some thousand hours a year as an unpaid leader of his own Mormon congregation in Boston, and then as leader of the several congregations in the Boston area. During that time one of his responsibilities was administering aid to the needy and unemployed among the Church members, which included Haitian immigrants and Cambodian refugees. Along with the other Mormons in Boston, Romney and his family fasted from eating on the first Sunday of each month and donated at least the value of the meals not eaten to a fund to care for the poor, which he administered. The Mormons also have a nation-wide system of farms and food processing facilities where Mormon volunteers grow food for the needy and distribute it to regional warehouses where local bishops can tap it for the poor in their own congregations.

    Recent articles on CNN.com and (ironically) the New York Times made clear that Romney also personally responded to people in need, such as showing up with his ladder at the home of someone who needed repairs done on his roof. In a more extreme case, outside the scope of his role as an unpaid minister, when the teenage daughter of one of his business partners went missing in New York City, Romney shut down the business and took all of its employees with him to New York, where they handed out flyers and personally went out on foot looking for, and then finding the girl, saving her life.

    Can anyone who criticizes Romney offer to match his record of selfless service to others?

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    RE: Forms of Address–In the fictional UCLA Physics Department where the characters on The Big Bang Theory work, the PhDs are addressed as “Doctors Cooper, Hofstadter and Kuthrapali”, and the lone Masters Degree holder in the posse as “Mister Wollowitz”. The technical advisor for the show is a full professor physicist from UCLA so this is presumably the practice there.

  • Zee-Man

    Prof. Mead writes: “It would, by the way, be easy to find statements from Protestant, Catholic and Jewish theologians saying much the same thing as Mr. Pratt.”

    Yeah, like this:

    “[Gosh darn] America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.”

    Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2011/11/28/exclusive-obama-in-2006-i-stole-book-title-audacity-of-hope-from-rev-wright-my-pastor-video/#ixzz1fEBTD3Wh

  • Nicoll

    Miss Manners has something to say about the proper use of titles.

    In a professional setting, a PhD is referred to as Dr. So and So. In a social setting, as Mr. or Ms. Such and Thus. Only MD’s get to be referred to as Drs. in social settings.

    Now its up to the audience to decide if this article was for professional or social purposes.

  • John Pack Lambert

    What would people think if Bloom made an objection to a Mason being elected president on the same “secret rituals” ground? Beyond this, Bloom is misleading in the article by implying that all Mormon meetings are closed by comparing closed temple ceremonies to open Pentecostal ceremonies. In fact Mormon church meetings are open to the public. His NYT readership might be unaware of this fact.

    Bloom actually has held this view of Mormonism since the late 1980s. Basically then he claimed Mormons were trying to take over the CIA and FBI for nefarious purposes and were not living up to Joseph Smith’s teachings.

    On the issue of how to speak of people with Ph.D.s, as a student at Eastern Michigan University I have had a professor with a Ph.D. tell me not to refer to him as “Doctor” so and so.

  • http://crimevictimsmediareport.com Tina Trent

    @wigwag

    Does anyone else find it odd to be debating the proprieties of address with someone who feels comfortable hiding behind anonymity to scold those practicing the simple courtesy of signing their names to their arguments? It is like debating someone who chooses to appear in a mask.

    Before parsing the privileges of title, Mr. Ms. or Dr. Wag might practice the principle of simple accountability.

    But, then, the subject is Harold Bloom. So perhaps both the stance and the message are fitting, particularly if the view being anonymously expressed is that Bloom is a conservative.

    “Conservative” and the rest of the laundry list Wag offers are merely masks Mr. Bloom likes to don when he is not gaining more from assuming their opposites. His is a moral relativism of one; his only consistency seems to be the complete exclusion of himself from any standard he demands of others. Call that gnostic, if you wish, or academic, or Waggish; I think all three titles fit, and that is not a compliment.

  • Patrick Hall

    Mead makes several strong points, but I believe he’s mistaken if he thinks Bloom was singling out Romney because he’s a Republican candidate. It’s not about politics for Bloom. His disdainful view of Mormonism was clearly solidified more than 20 years ago–long before Romney was ever a political figure. His latest NYT editorial was merely one last attempt to bless the world with his elegant prose before his old age and paranoia finally cause him to collapse into a heap of dust destined to rest on the same library shelves where his literary criticism is already gathering dust.

    One last observation: all of you commenters who seem to wear your conservative/republican convictions on your sleeves, if you really care about religious freedom, I suggest you worry about the vast number of fellow conservative republicans who are no different than Mr. Bloom when it comes to harboring willfully ignorant views of Mormons. There’s a reason many Republicans are doing anything they can to nominate anyone besides Romney, and it doesn’t have anything to do with Romney’s actual qualifications for office.

  • RonRonDoRon

    Dear Dr WigWag –

    You say, “There is nothing bigoted about Bloom’s description of Mormonism …” and “As an atheist, Bloom doesn’t hold any religion in particularly high regard …”

    So you are saying that Bloom is not particularly bigoted toward Mormonism,he’s bigoted toward all religions? That’s all right then.

  • http://thepencilofnature.net Lorenz Gude

    As a graduate of the Ivy L:eague institution nearest to Professor Meade’s beloved Queens I can understand the horror of the New York Times at the rustic Ms. Palin. But really, Mitt Romney? The Times wants us to get our knickers in a knot over this Rockefeller Republican from a family, like the Rockefellers, (and Roosevelts, the Kennedys) with a solid record of public service? A mediocrity he may be, but he is no threat to the establishment. Methinks the Grey Lady, living as she is on borrowed Mexican money, is working a bit too hard to control the narrative.

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