May 30, 2003

To the Editors:

John Womack Jr.’s review (vol. 83, no. 2, pp. 374–75) of Gilbert M. Joseph, ed., Reclaiming the Political in Latin American History: Essays from the North (Duke Univ. Press, 2001) is not only grumpy—it is riddled with inaccuracies. For example, I do not claim writing history is like “politics over great issues like war, wealth, liberty, and justice for all” (Womack, p. 375). In my article, I point out that the high value the academy places on scholarship can foster “overblown appraisals of (or accusations about) the politics of scholarship,” which are normally “modest and indirect” (Stern, p. 33). Womack confirms the point with his overheated reaction.

Similarly, I do not warn scholars “not to try to understand ‘radical evil’” (Womack,p. 375). The point is the more subtle problem, “more intractable than one’s intentions” (Stern, p. 55), put forth by philosopher Hannah Arendt. Arendt,...

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