It's An Ill Wind Introduction Early Days Education Circa 1941–59 Graduate School, 1959–6 Toronto, 1963–95 Travel Some Conclusions An Addendum Notes References

Ricardo Afterword: A Memoir Continued

An Addendum

I told Mr Johnson that I put down all sorts of little incidents in it [the journal]. ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘there is nothing too little for so little a creature as man. It is by studying little things that we attain the great knowledge of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible.’
Boswell 1950: 305

My first effort at autobiography has generated friendly and positive responses for which I am grateful. I take this occasion to add a point or two by way of clarification.xv

I wish to emphasize first, that my comments on the absence of history from my course of Talmudic training (above, p. 10) refer specifically to the particular curriculum characterizing the traditional academies. I was not commenting upon the role of history in Talmudic literature in any other sense. It is also essential to specify that the general approach at Gateshead reflected the logical and shrewd style characteristic of the old Lithuanian academies, rather than the scholastic and sophistic style of the Polish Talmudists. Thirdly, some readers did not quite appreciate the significance of my allusion to turbot as a ‘questionable fish’ (above, p. 4). I do not blame them.xvi To give some flavour of how serious the issue is in the orthodox world – and to correct a minor error – I quote from an account of decisions taken by the London ecclesiastical court (Beth Din) in 1822 and 1954:

Shortly before the High Holy-Days of 1822 the Beth Din received a communication from Newcastle-upon-Tyne asking if the fish ‘called Turbot’ could be eaten by Jews. The Chief Rabbi answered in the affirmative and stated that permission to eat the particular sea-water fish had been authorised in two responses – one issued by his own father while rabbi in London, and the other by his father’s illustrious brother, Rabbi Saul of Amsterdam. Hirschell stated that they had both based their decisions on documents in the Beth Din of Venice. This ruling of 1822, issued by the Ab Beth Din of London, was accepted by British Jewry for the following 132 years. However, an event took place in London during 1954 which made it apparent that the then members of the London Beth Din were unaware of Hirschell’s ruling. At a festive dinner at a London hotel the fish course was turbot and one of the distinguished guests accused the caterer of serving trefa (non-kosher) fish. A piscatorial furore ensued, and for the following few weeks countless so-called experts gave their views for or against the kashrut of the fish. The climax came on November 2, 1954, when the Beth Din issued a ruling that turbot was not to be included in the list of kosher foods. The ruling was unique in that the then Chief Rabbi and his dayanim overruled the decisions of two former heads of their own Beth Din!
Simons 1980: 68xvii
In the memoir I illustrated the complexities of the dietary rules by this particular instance, because it is one that I recall vividly from my childhood. But the example casts light on an entire life-style and the broader picture should be kept in mind. Thus the fact that turbot was not generally acceptable in my parents’ home confirms a stricter degree of observance than that enjoined by the London court at the period in question, and reflects the great stringency of the European immigrant communities. And the relaxation during the war years was not (it appears from Simons) on the part of the London court as I thought – since until 1954 that court was permissive in its ruling – but rather on that of the stricter independent orthodox communities.

I turn to a related matter. The clash between the Enlightenment philosophy and Rabbinic Judaism on which I put considerable stress (above, p. 6) may be nicely illustrated by an extraordinary apology to readers from the Editorial Board of The Jewish Observer, an orthodox American journal, for having published a piece on Moses Mendelssohn, albeit one that had identified his ‘fatal flaws’: ‘We see that we were indeed in error in publishing an article on Mendelssohn. For this we apologize to our readers. All the more are we pained by the indication from the responses that the article was interpreted as a watering down of the traditional opposition to Mendelssohn’ (1987). This response will (like the turbot case) help convey some of the background which I sought, perhaps too briefly, to reconstruct.

To summarize: I accept for myself the regulations of my religion but with a strong preference for lenient rulings; for me a good rabbi has always been one who can say ‘yes’. I reject the intolerance that sometimes attaches to (or rather seems endemic in) organized ‘conservative’ religion, and strenuously oppose any sort of theocratic organization – Mendelssohn’s position of course. I have been asked by readers of the memoir how I can reconcile these two orientations. I can only answer in the words of the late Benny Hill: ‘With considerable difficulty.’ For all that, I have not yet fallen off the tightrope and, God willing, can stay up into the foreseeable future.

This leads me to a matter which I deliberately avoided in the memoir, but which I now think has to be brought into the open notwithstanding the risk that a charge of paranoia will be brought against me. I allude to the irrational (and, it pains me to say it, even malevolent) nature of a few of the reactions to my researches on Ricardo and the Classics.xviii

A little background from another field (epidemiology) will set the stage. Peter Duesberg, a professor of molecular cell biology at Berkeley, takes the minority view that AIDS is drug-induced, not virus-induced (Horton, 1996). What does the scientific establishment do to a scientist whose work is out of step with majority opinion? Cut off his funding. And peer pressure reflecting scientific consensus can be crippling so that ‘few scientists are any longer willing to question, even privately, the consensus view in any field’ (Duesberg, in Horton 1996: 20). Duesberg was badly hit by the establishment.xix I myself have never suffered serious consequences for my position on the classics. Imagine then my astonishment to read a referee’s report relating to a recent request for research funding from Ottawa. The referee seems to have read my memoir: ‘Now of course, both Hollander and his critics have the right to be heard. But his request for funds to support a further series of articles defending his view of classical economics seems to me quite unreasonable. It reflects his tendency towards research overkill, behind which is a Talmudic mind (he is Jewish, and he did spend a year as a trainee for the rabbinate) and a fierce conviction that by sheer effort and willpower he can ensure that his view will prevail.’ He then proceeds with the original argument that since I would do the research anyway, why waste the state’s precious funds: ‘his very large research output and writings in response to critics seems to demonstrate that he is perfectly capable of defending, reiterating, and elaborating his views without further outside research assistance’. There was all the more reason to put the Research Council’s investment ‘to better use’, since ‘[s]ome time between his Ricardo (1979) and his Mill (1985), most of the leading English-speaking specialists on classical economics’ – he cites six by name – ‘expressed their disagreement with Hollander’s aim of proving his claim “that the Ricardo–Mill theory ... is directly in line with modern doctrine”’.

One must not lose perspective. Duesberg’s position, if correct, has societal implications of enormous importance; the interpretation of Ricardo is inconsequential in comparison. And fortunately I received my funding, the grants committee dissociating itself from the hostile report, and placing me high in its ranking. (The Canadian government is serious and sent my modest proposal to five referees, who covered the entire spectrum of opinion.) I raise the issue only to show how an effort was made to deny funding for my work on the grounds that I must be wrong since an (alleged) majority of English-language critics says I am; and how incensed the referee must be to make no attempt to disguise his regrettable biases and to fall back on the perverse case that a productive scholar is to be penalized for his productivity.

Though the referee had apparently read my memoir, he got it wrong in one respect: I was never a trainee for the rabbinate as I made it clear (above, pp. 8–9, 10). But my training did instill in me a respect for the texts, particularly an appreciation of the necessity to read in context. It is disrespect for the texts that is the source of the myth-making that bedevils the history of economics. A sad instance close to home is provided by what masquerades as a ‘review’ of my first collection of essays. In the Introduction to that collection I quote a list of ten assertions regarding Ricardo which had been attributed to me by a hostile critic and observe: ‘I actually go a long way with Professor [Mark] Blaug. Many of the assertions are false (especially those containing “never” or its equivalent). But these I do not recognize as my own, claiming for myself and attributing to Ricardo a modicum of subtlety and sophistication’ (1995, 2; emphasis added). Now in his response, the intemperate critic rips my three-sentence statement apart, suppresses the second and third sentences and leaves me exposed to ridicule: ‘Professor Hollander sets out my list of ten of his iconoclastic assertions about Ricardo, every one of which I claim are false, and calmly concludes: “I actually go a long way with Professor Blaug” (p. 2). He can say this because his method ensures that even his own interpretative conclusions exhibit the dictum that “anything goes”’ (1996: 23). Such a spectacle on the part of an established scholar is enough to make one weep. As for a lament at the close of the tirade that ‘reading Hollander is always irritating and sometimes dangerous to one’s mental health’ and akin to ‘wallowing in mud’ (24), perhaps I can make amends. I would be happy to provide details of a promotional notice appearing in Canada’s national daily under ‘Country Inns and Outings’: ‘“Dirty Weekend” takes on a whole new meaning ... Relax your aching muscles in our new Total Immersion Hot Moor Mud Baths. Clip this ad and receive two Mud Baths for the price of one ...’ A dip in our Hot Moor Mud Baths might help repair the damage to my critic’s mental health for which he holds me responsible.

With respect to another recent episode, I readily plead mea culpa; the excitement of research led me to a gross error that has now been corrected (Hollander 1996). I allude to my report at the January 1995 meeting of the AEA in Washington of the possible emergence in the Sraffa archives of Ricardo’s famous ‘Lost Papers on the Profits of Capital’. Given my certitude that the hand was Ricardo’s, I was faced with two possibilities. That Sraffa, who must have known of this paper, chose to suppress it. That Sraffa must have mistaken Ricardo’s hand for Bentham’s, for which reason he did not publish the piece in the Works and Correspondence. (The document is described by Sraffa as a ‘paper probably in Bentham’s hand-writing on the effects on profits of cultivating successive qualities of land’, and also as ‘Bentham on Rent’.) The first of these possibilities, I dismissed immediately. (I now believe the document to be in James Mill’s hand, and possibly the Bentham item reported by Sraffa, Mill acting as Bentham’s amanuensis.)

Why do I raise this particular issue? It is because the original attribution to Ricardo engendered a charge against me of dishonesty, indeed of l?se-majest?, by an outraged defender of the faith. His widely-circulated censure uses at the masthead the Chinese proverb: ‘The Truth cannot be erased. Neither can Falsehood’ (italicized in the original), and it reflects his high dudgeon at an imaginary implication:

Hollander suggests that Sraffa might have not recognized the manuscript to be in Ricardo’s hand, and assumed it to be by (probably) Bentham. This however must appear so incredible to any reader in his right mind that another explanation naturally suggests itself: Sraffa must have suppressed the paper. And the fact that it was not found among Ricardo’s papers in Cambridge University Library, where it actually belongs, but among Sraffa’s papers, might make this explanation appear (superficially) plausible; moreover apart from considerations relating to Sraffa’s integrity and scholarship ... one would deem him an idiot if he suppressed a manuscript of Ricardo and then left it in his own collection of autographs.

It did not cross my critic’s mind that honest mistakes are possible and that at no time did I question Sraffa’s editorial integrity. The interested reader might refer to de Vivo 1996 to find the complaint – though by then wholly irrelevant – alluded to in print.

It is evident from these episodes that the history of economics is highly charged with emotion – or should I say with ‘religious’ fervour? And with the fervour comes a danger of intellectual fascism against which one must be ever alert, for liberty requires eternal vigilance, as we were taught by the Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1790. Nevertheless, my own experience makes me hopeful – it is possible to swim against the tide – for we are blessed with a variety of research centres and outlets for publication. I am not sure though that my inveterate habit of responding to critics has been to good purpose. James Boswell would have doubted it: ‘[I]t would be an endless task for an author to point out upon every occasion the precise object he has in view. Contenting himself with the approbation of readers of discernment and taste, he ought not to complain that some are found who cannot or will not understand him’ (1961 [1773]: 223n). But though I was, I now admit, childishly naive in taking it for granted that rational debate is always welcome, I very much doubt that I will ever wholly abandon belief in the dictum: de la discussion jaillit la lumière (though I shall be more discriminating in future). I have my Talmudic training to blame for that. And fortunately we do have a model to emulate:

And now my dear Malthus I have done. Like other disputants after such discussion we each retain our opinions. These discussions however never influence our friendship; I should not like you more than I do if you agreed in opinion with me.
Ricardo to Malthus, 31 August 1823; Ricardo 1951–73, IX: 382
That too, though Ricardo might not have realized it, is the Talmudic mode.