Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Reader of 'The Unfinished Revolution: The Battle For America's Soul' Asks a Question and Receives an Answer

Recently, I received an inquiry about my free book, The Unfinished Revolution: The Battle For America's Soul (if you wish to download a copy, please go to: Free Book). The nature of the question was very short: "Why no footnotes?"

I wrote to the individual and outlined my thinking on the matter. After completing my response, I felt that other people who downloaded the book might also have wondered about the issue, so, below I am releasing my answer to the reader's question.


Your question is a good one. However, there may be a method to my 'madness'.

As I indicated at the very end of the Introduction, a variety of sources helped inform my understanding, and those authors who did so are listed in the bibliography. There were a number of reasons for limiting my source-citing to the bibliography.

First, when it came to what might be considered factual issues, the facts often were overdetermined -- that is, they were supported by more than one source. Consequently, rather than give a footnote listing books, authors, and page numbers that are associated with particular sources -- which doesn't really demonstrate the facticity of anything other than that one or more researchers explored a given area -- I gave people relevant sources that could be pursued according to a reader's interests, and those readers who decided to follow up on this or that issue could peruse the bibliography and come away with a fairly good idea of which listings in the bibliography were relevant to the "facts" in the book that touched on issues in which a reader might be interested in pursuing further.

However, footnoting a source will not serve to establish the degree of 'truthiness' (to borrow from Stephen Colbert) to which any given assertion gives expression. One actually has to do a great deal of research to try to work one's way toward what might be the "facts" of any given concept, idea, situation or set of circumstances, and I believe that my book, along with its bibliography, is as good a place to start as any other possibility. 

I've done my research. Some of that research has been summarized in my book and alluded to in the bibliography. If one wishes to challenge any of the "facts" in my book, then one will have to read all of the books in the bibliography, and, in addition, take a look at their bibliographies and decide which sources to read ... and, in turn, take a look at the bibliographies in the latter books, and so on. 

Secondly, in a variety of cases, I actually have specified sources within the text of my book. For example, when I wrote about certain issues involving, say, the Constitution, or the so-called 'Federalist Papers' (I use the term "so called" because there was no book called The Federalist Papers back in the late 1780s ... just a bunch of newspaper articles/editorials written during the run up to the ratification convention in New York state), or Maybury v. Madison, or Thomas Paine, or John Rawls, or Ronald Dworkin, or H.L.A. Hart, or Stanley Milgram or Philip Zimbardo, one knows the precise nature of the source that I am critically exploring. 

Moreover, I indicated at the beginning of the appendix for my book that the contents of the appendix was a response to the essay: "Two Concepts of Liberty" by Isaiah Berlin. However, for someone to assess the merits, if any, of what I have done in the appendix, one will also have to read Berlin's essay and engage in some critical reflection with respect to both that essay as well as what I have written in critical response to that essay.

I am not asking anyone to take what I say in my book at face value. Read the book, read the books cited in the bibliography, and proceed from there. 

Thirdly, and as indicated in the last paragraph of the introduction to Unfinished Revolution, "the arguments, orientation, and conclusions of the current work are my own." I didn't borrow or paraphrase them from anywhere, and, therefore, there is no need to footnote them, and in this sense the book is its own extended footnote to everything I have read that appears in the bibliography. 

In most cases, I take "facts" that are drawn from a variety of sources, and I hermeneutically engage those "facts". As a result, the Unfinished Revolution constitutes my 'reading' or interpretation of various writings, historical circumstances, and philosophical/political/legal perspectives, and, therefore, whatever "facts" might serve as a catalyst for my analysis are merely grist for the mill of critical reflection. 

I believe that I have got my "facts" right, but if anyone wishes to take issue with this contention, then citing a footnote, or quibbling with a footnote, is not going to settle the matter. One always has to go back to original sources and beyond, and in this sense I am challenging the reader by not making it "easy" for him or her through just giving a footnote ... I am suggesting that an individual actually read the books listed in the bibliography in their entirety and think for themselves. 

The material in the books, essays, documents, or articles that are listed in the bibliography are, as indicated in the Introduction, really only a "horizon to the main focus of" the Unfinished Revolution. There is -- at least in my opinion -- a great deal of original thinking that takes place in my book, and this is the primary focus to which the book gives expression ... the rest is merely horizon. To be sure, horizon is important because it helps to establish context, but, nonetheless, while horizon has a role to play, it is secondary to the original ideas that are being given expression within the context of the horizon that is formed by the contents of the materials that are listed in the bibliography. 

Even if a reader wished to take issue with any, or all, of the "facts" that are stated in my book -- and such matters would be the only things that one might select to be the possible subject of a footnote -- this, in a sense, would be to miss the point of the book. The book is a complex, multifaceted exercise into critical thinking about issues such as: sovereignty, rights, liberty, democracy, governance, authority, law, constitutions, morality, justice, human potential, the nation/state, duties of care, economics, corporations, and undue influence.

None of the foregoing issues is really all that dependent on this or that historical fact. In other words, to a great extent, the ideas entailed by such issues can be considered independently of the 'historical facts" ... those ideas/issues are topics in philosophy of law, morality, political science, human psychology, social justice, and the like.

When I felt it was important to cite a source, I did so in the text itself. Thus, and as indicated previously, when I was critically discussing the structural character of the Constitution or the legal opinion in Marbury v. Madison, or The Federalist Papers, I mentioned them and even quoted from those sources.

However, for the most part, whatever "facts" that were mentioned in my book were largely prefatory to the essence of the discussions that ensued. Those discussions were about ideas and concepts, not about this or that fact, and, in addition, I felt that the bibliography constituted a sufficient backing for whatever "facts" appeared in my book. 

Finally, it has been my experience that many people either don't read footnotes or get sidetracked by them and, in the process, lose the thread of the perspective being presented. If a reader is serious about research, she or he will take the clues that I have given in the bibliography and run with them in his or her own manner. Nevertheless, for most people, I feel that footnotes just get in the way and make a written work seem more difficult and uninviting than it actually might be if given a chance.

More than anything, I wanted the readers of The Unfinished Revolution to think about some very important issues that are, I believe, relevant to the mess we all find ourselves in today. I often did cite a variety of "facts" to introduce topics, but my emphasis throughout the book was to develop ideas on which people could reflect in whatever way they considered to be of value to them, and I did not consider footnotes to be very crucial to that purpose.  


(If you wish to download a copy of the Unfinished Revolution, then please go to: Free Book

And, I should confess that inadvertently I gave an incorrect link in an earlier posting concerning the free download and sent people to a page that was selling the book for $3.00. One of the two links that I gave in the earlier posting that would assist a person to obtain the book was correct, but the other link was not, and I only discovered my mistake after the fact ... unfortunately, some people might have interpreted the mistake as a possible bait and switch scam -- i.e., offering a free book but sending people to a page where it cost $3.00 -- but it was just an honest mistake that is being corrected. The above link should take the interested individual to the correct download page, and I truly apologize for any confusion or trouble that my mistake generated.)

No comments: