The Association of American Publishers (AAP) has announced the subject-category winners of its 2021 awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE awards). The awards recognize the authors, editors, and publishers of books that have made “significant advancements in their respective fields of study each year.”
From the publisher’s description:
We tend to think of freedom as something that is best protected by carefully circumscribing the boundaries of legitimate state activity. But who came up with this understanding of freedom, and for what purposes? In a masterful and surprising reappraisal of more than two thousand years of thinking about freedom in the West, Annelien de Dijn argues that we owe our view of freedom not to the liberty lovers of the Age of Revolution but to the enemies of democracy.
The conception of freedom most prevalent today—that it depends on the limitation of state power—is a deliberate and dramatic rupture with long-established ways of thinking about liberty. For centuries people in the West identified freedom not with being left alone by the state but with the ability to exercise control over the way in which they were governed. They had what might best be described as a democratic conception of liberty.
Understanding the long history of freedom underscores how recently it has come to be identified with limited government. It also reveals something crucial about the genealogy of current ways of thinking about freedom. The notion that freedom is best preserved by shrinking the sphere of government was not invented by the revolutionaries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who created our modern democracies—it was invented by their critics and opponents. Rather than following in the path of the American founders, today’s “big government” antagonists more closely resemble the counterrevolutionaries who tried to undo their work.
Annelein De Dijn is a professor of history at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, focusing on political an intellectual history.
One question that readers might be asking themselves is: why did the philosophy award go to an intellectual history book?
To be clear, this is not at all a comment on the quality of De Dijn’s book. Rather, it’s a question about the AAP’s awards process. The AAP gives out awards in 45 different subjects. How does it decide which category a book goes in, and is that a good method?
As I noted in previous post about the PROSE awards, philosophy was only recognized as a distinct category in 2002. Perhaps the AAP needs to add “intellectual history” as a category—adding to its existing array of history categories: “European History”, “North American History”, and “World History”, not to mention “Art History & Criticism”, “Biological Anthropology, Ancient History & Archaeology”, and “History of Science, Medicine, and Technology”—so that works in philosophy are given their due. Or perhaps it should add more categories in philosophy.