I was intrigued today by our critical assessment of Bender's methodology or personal biases. For example, it was noted that while Bender emphasizes the causal role of ideas about race as passed from Europe to America, he does less with ideas as such. The questions I pose now are:
(1) Does he in fact do so? What examples and counter-examples can we find in his book? (2) Why does he do so?
(3) What are the effects of this de-emphasis of intellectual history (or other relevant causal factors) on his work?
I'm not ready to respond to (2) or (3) yet. But I have found an example of (1), from the chapter on empire my group analyzed. The passage in question is in the penultimate paragraph of page 215. The context is the opium war, in which China prohibited the importation of opium and Britain used military force to rescind this prohibition. Here Bender does bring up intellectual history, but in a curious way. In discussing the pro-British position of John Quincy Adams on the issue, Bender states:
". . . Adams lent his support to the British position with an argument against China's 'anti-commercial' stance that was predictably learned but also tendentious. He insisted that 'the right of exchange, barter, or, in other words, of commerce, necessarily follows' from the right of property, which was protected by natural law. He went even further: commerce was not only a natural right but one of the 'duties of men.' And not only men but nations had this duty: 'Commercial intercourse between nations is a moral obligation.'
This resort to a natural-law argument was prompted, no doubt, by the lack of support for his position in leading theories of international law. . . ."
Basically, rather than taking Adams's words on their face, Bender discounts Adams's stated beliefs about natural law as disingenuous or self-serving: the only reason Adams made the argument was that international law (since China had the legal right to close its borders to trade) would not do.
My question now is: do we agree with Bender's interpretation? Or does it reveal an anti-intellectual history bias? When people from history tell us about their moral beliefs, do we take them seriously?
Maybe Bender is merely saying that Adams chose the argument that would be persuasive to his audience under the circumstances. But to me the word "tendentious" implies otherwise.
Do I have something here, or am I making a mountain of a mole hill?