Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) January 4, 2017: My favorite scholar is the American Jesuit polymath Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955) of Saint Louis University (SLU), the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri.
Over the years, I took five courses from Fr. Ong at SLU, starting in the fall semester of 1964 when I was twenty years old. I have published a book-length study of Ong's life and work (2000; rev. ed., 2015), and I have co-edited five volumes of his essays (1992a, 1992b, 1995, 1999, and 2002) and contributed introductory essays to four of those five volumes (1992a, 1995, 1999, and 2002). In addition, I have co-edited anthologies of essays by diverse hands about Ong's thought (1991 and 2012), and I have contributed essays to anthologies of essays by diverse hands about his thought (1987, 1991, 1999, and 2012).
I regard Ong's body of work as a goldmine worthy of studying carefully -- and a very great blessing for understanding our Western and American cultural history. For bibliographic information about Ong's publications, including information about reprinted items, see Thomas M. Walsh's "Walter J. Ong, S.J.: A Bibliography 1929-2006" in the book Language, Culture, and Identity: The Legacy of Walter J. Ong, S.J., edited by Sara van den Berg and Walsh (Hampton Press, 2011, pages 185-245).
Ong's most original and creative contribution to our understanding of Western and American culture is his massively researched book Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason (Harvard University Press, 1958). Briefly, Peter Ramus (1515-1572) was a French logician and educational reformer and Protestant martyr. When Harvard College was founded in 1636, Ramus' work in logic (also known as dialectic) dominated the curriculum. In addition, Ramus' logic dominated the curriculum at Cambridge University in England, where almost all college-educated men in New England had studied it.
Years earlier, Ong had first learned about the influence of Ramus' dialectic from Perry Miller's book The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Harvard University Press, 1939). When Ong later proceeded to undertake doctoral studies at Harvard University, Miller served as the director of his doctoral dissertation about Ramus.
Fr. Ong died more than a decade before the brash developer Donald J. Trump of New York ran for president of the United States in 2016.
Nevertheless, hints in Ong's publications and certain related publications can help us establish a conceptual framework for understanding President-elect Trump's appeal to the Trump voters in the thirty states who gave him a decisive electoral victory over the Democratic Party's candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In Ong's first book, Frontiers in American Catholicism: Essays on Ideology and Culture (Macmillan, 1957), he discusses the threefold schema of character typology that the American Jewish sociologist David Riesman (1909-2002) of Harvard University works with in his widely known book The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character (Yale University Press, 1950): outer-directed (also known as tradition-directed), inner-directed, and other-directed. Even though Riesman acknowledges that outer-directed people have always been present in American culture, he sees inner-directed people as the classic kind of American people. Riesman's way of characterizing inner-directed people is consistent with and compatible with Ong's way of describing people (more often than not males) educated in formal logic in Western and American cultural history.
But with the memory of the Holocaust under Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in Germany fresh in his mind, Riesman was understandably worried about the then-emerging other-directed character type in American mass culture -- which Ong eventually came to refer to as secondary oral culture, the cultural constellation under the influence of the various communications media that accentuate sound.
However, Ong in his 1957 book was not as worried as Riesman in his 1950 book was about the possible negative implications of the then-emerging other-directed character type in postwar American mass culture.
In connection with Riesman's threefold character typology, I should mention that the Swiss psychiatrist and psychological theorist C. G. Jung, M.D. (1875-1961), at an earlier time became known in the prestige culture in American culture for the far more detailed personality typology he worked out in the book Psychological Types, translated by H. G. Baynes (London, 1923; New York, 1926; orig. German ed., 1921; later, R. F. C. Hull revised Baynes' translation for the edition of the book published by Princeton University Press in 1971). On the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the founding of Harvard College in 1636, Harvard University conferred an honorary doctorate on Jung in 1936. In 1937, Jung delivered the prestigious Terry Lectures at Yale University -- published as the book Psychology and Religion (Yale University Press, 1938). Ong delivered the Terry Lectures at Yale in 1964, the expanded version of which was published as the book The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History (Yale University Press, 1967).
In 2009, Norton published an over-sized art-book edition of Jung's The Red Book: Liber Novus, edited by Sonu Shamdasani and translated by Mark Kyburz, John Peck, and Shamdasani. That elegant edition has spurred a renewal of interest in Jung's work and related work. I will say more about Jung's thought momentarily.
At a later time, Ong published three important books with Cornell University Press (1971, 1977, and 1981). In two of those books, Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology: Studies in the Interaction of Expression and Culture (1971) and Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness (1981), the published version of Ong's 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University, Ong discusses the masterwork of the German-born-and-educated Jewish Jungian analyst and theorist Erich Neumann (1905-1960) -- the book The Origins and History of Consciousness, translated by R. F. C. Hull (Pantheon Books, 1954; orig. German ed., 1949).
In certain earlier publications, Ong also refers to Jungian thought. See, for example, Ong's article "St. Ignatius' Prison-Cage and the Existentialist Situation in the Jesuit-sponsored journal Theological Studies, volume 15, number 1 (March 1954): pages 34-51, which Ong includes in his book The Barbarian Within: And Other Fugitive Essays and Studies (Macmillan, 1962, pages 242-259). (St. Ignatius Loyola was the founder of the Jesuit order.)