President John F. Kennedy
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) December 28, 2020: My favorite scholar is the American Jesuit Renaissance specialist and cultural historian Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955). His family name is English; it used to be spelled "Onge"; it may be related to the English name Yonge. Father Ong's ancestors left East Anglia on the same ship that brought Roger Williams to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631 - five years before the founding of Harvard College in 1636.
About the time of the 300th anniversary of the founding of Harvard College in 1936, when young John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963) was in his first year at Harvard College (class of 1940), various scholars began noticing how the logic of the French Renaissance logician and educational reformer and Protestant martyr Peter Ramus (1515-1572) dominated the curriculum at Harvard College in the seventeenth century - as it also dominated the curriculum of Cambridge University in East Anglia.
For example, the alcoholic atheist Perry Miller (1905-1963) in English at Harvard University reported that he found only one self-described Aristotelian among numerous self-described Ramists in seventeenth-century New England, in his massively researched 1939 book The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Harvard University Press). To the best of his ability, Professor Miller explained Ramist disjunctive (either/or) logic (see esp. pages 116-153, 312-330, and 337-340). Nevertheless, Miller called for someone to undertake a more thorough study of Ramist logic.
Subsequently, Miller served as the director of Ong's massively research 1954 doctoral dissertation in English at Harvard on Ramist logic in the history of the verbal arts of grammar, rhetoric, and logic (also known as dialectic) in Western cultural history, including Aristotle's invention of the formal study of logic. In 1958, Ong's dissertation was published in two volumes by Harvard University Press:
1) Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason (Ong sees Ramus and his followers as early practitioners of the Art of Reason in the subsequent Age of Reason [also known as the Enlightenment]);
(2) Ramus and Talon Inventory, a briefly annotated bibliography of more than 750 volumes (most in Latin) by Ramus, Omer Talon (c.1510-1562), Ramus' other allies, and his critics that Ong had tracked down in more than 100 libraries in the British Isles and Continental Europe - with the financial assistance of two Guggenheim Fellowships.
For further discussion of Ong's philosophical thought in his massively researched 1958 book RMDD about Ramist logic, see my OEN article "Walter J. Ong's Philosophical Thought" (dated September 20, 2020):
However, we should note here that the first book that Ong published was a short collection of his essays titled Frontiers in American Catholicism: Essays on Ideology and Culture (Macmillan, 1957). A mutual friend of both Father Ong at Saint Louis University and Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts hand delivered a copy of Ong's 1957 book to the senator in Washington, D.C. In Ong's short note to the senator, he mentioned Kennedy's second publicly published book Profiles in Courage (Harper), which won the Pulitzer Prize in Biography. In return, Ong subsequently received a short thank-you note from Senator Kennedy.
(Kennedy's first book Why England Slept [Wilfred Funk, 1940], was the revised and expanded version of his 1940 Harvard senior thesis. As we will see below, Jack Kennedy had also compiled a privately printed memorial book about his older brother's death on August 12, 1944, in World War II.)
Thus, both Ong and Kennedy had a Harvard connection - and both were Roman Catholics. If we think of the American Protestants, and former Protestants, who dominated the prestige culture in American culture from early colonial times onward as representing, figuratively speaking, the Greeks, then we might also think of American Catholics as representing barbarians, at least with respect to the prestige culture in American culture.
See Ong's illuminating 1962 essay "The Barbarian Within: Outsiders Inside Society Today," which is reprinted in An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry, edited by Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup (Hampton Press, 2002, pages 277-300). Indeed, the postwar period saw the emergence of various previously outsider groups under the previous cultural dominance of American Protestants, and former Protestants, of the prestige culture in American culture.
But also see Robert C. Christopher's 1989 book Crashing the Gates: The De-WASPing of America's Power Elite (Simon & Schuster).
But now flash forward to Ong's 1967 book The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History (Yale University Press), the expanded version of his 1964 Terry Lectures at Yale University, and to Ong's 1981 book Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness (Cornell University Press), the published version of his 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University.
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