A squirearchy of deists, agnostics, and closeted atheists, the American founders erected a wall of separation between church and state to preserve their fledgling republic from the tyranny of an established church. But debating these points is inconsequential: after all, we have their singular achievement, the Constitution, and we can see the wall there. Granted, it is occasionally important to rescue the founders from misinterpretation by, e.g., pajama-wearing bloggers, farmers in overalls, and people who like NASCAR. Fortunately any historical work to be done is decidedly straightforward. One need only state the obvious: though the colonists were devout, the founders…
Robert C. Koons, a philosophy professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has written a piece titled “Dark Satanic Mills of Mis-Education: Some Proposals for Reform” in Humanitas. The problems at Behemoth State University (here Koons self-consciously borrows from Russell Kirk) did not begin, Koons writes, “with Sputnik or the G. I. Bill.”
Instead, Koons—with help from Irving Babbitt and C. S. Lewis—identifies two principal foes, neither one a twentieth century progressive: Francis Bacon and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He writes,
We can best understand the modern university by seeing it as built on the synthesis of these two tendencies, Baconian and Rousseauan. We now justify the hard sciences almost entirely in pragmatic and utilitarian terms, as the incubators of technology, not as observatories from which to behold and contemplate the music of the spheres. In contrast, many in the humanities, as well as most in the new fields of “communications” and “education,” have abandoned the hard road of fact to become the playgrounds of “values.” Since all value is the arbitrary projection and construction of liberated egos, there is no true hierarchy of value to be learned and internalized and to structure the course of learning into a true curriculum.
This work is a continuing development of Koons’s earlier reflections on what he calls the uncurriculum that dominates the landscape of research—and many would-be research—universities. Basically, an uncurriculum is the system of distributive requirements that universities demand from students, for the benefit of the professors, under the guise of giving students choices. The result: Professors get to teach whatever they want to teach that furthers their research interests, and students are required to take those classes, independent from their interests or how such classes could help or develop them.
James W. Ceaser, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia, has an excellent essay called “Four Heads and One Heart: The Modern Conservative Movement,” in his recently published Designing a Polity: America’s Constitution in Theory and Practice. I read it for this year’s Miller Summer Institute, sponsored by the Jack Miller Center, in partnership with the University of Virginia’s Program on Constitutionalism and Democracy.
It’s an eye-opening piece: Ceaser helped me understand both the unity and the disunity of the right, its agreements and its squabbles. First, the agreement: It’s found in conservatism’s one heart, a heart that hates liberalism. A common “antipathy to liberalism” unites conservatives, not shared intellectual principles.
A word of advice about Rev. Robert Sirico’s just released Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy: Do not tell yourself that you will “just read a chapter” in your office before settling down to do the work that you absolutely must do before your week begins. I made that mistake, and read about two-thirds of the book in one go. I only stopped reading because there was nothing left to read; I finished the book.
Sirico at one point says that a favorite compliment is “being told that I have put into words what someone has thought for a long time but never been able to articulate” (106). I can’t pay him that compliment; I can say something stronger: Sirico puts into words things I’d never thought of, but wish I had. I found myself, while reading the book, trying to take a mental note of some of his very best one liners, turns of phrase, and examples, in an effort to store them for future use.
Sirico shows repeatedly, and even doggedly, that the enemies of free markets have it exactly wrong. One doesn’t have to choose between helping the poor and markets; between health care and markets, or between protecting the environment and markets. On the contrary, as he puts it, if you want to help the poor, start a business; if you want people to receive health care, then don’t let a state-funded bureaucracy suck the compassion out of medicine, and, if you want to save tigers and elephants, then give people property rights in them, etc.
In response to “Black Studies: ‘Swaggering into the Future,’” Naomi Schaefer Riley penned “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations.” To put it mildly, her piece generated no small amount of controversy, ending (or beginning) with her dismissal from The Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog Brainstorm. Both in print and online Ms. Riley tells her side of the story in the Wall Street Journal. She ends her remarks with the following:
My longtime familiarity with the absurdities of higher education did not, I confess, prepare me for this most absurd of results. The content of my post, after all, is hardly shocking; the same thing could have been written 30 years ago. And perhaps that’s the most depressing part of all this. Despite the real social and economic advancement that has been made by blacks in this country, the American faculty is still stuck in the 1960s.
Consider the following modest proposal: a Marxist read on the Riley kerfuffle. It’s a return to the 1960s, but it’s not about race. It’s about economics.
Here’s the argument: Criticizing a single tenured academic does not threaten that academic’s income nor the income of his colleagues. If someone is criticized, then that could be fantastic for the discipline, and for that academic, too (file the criticism under to power, speaking truth). However, if the entire discipline is criticized, then, from an economic point of view, professors have a problem, for at least two reasons.
Do bleeding heart libertarians have an argument against statism? My concern is that they do not. Take Mike Rappaport. He writes that “ I have always been a Bleeding Heart Libertarian who is concerned about the effects of liberty on the poor and …  I now base my political views on a utilitarian approach.” This post shows how (1) and (2), taken together, keeps one always open to (3) statism, which Rappaport says is “similar to other negative ‘isms’ like racism and sexism.” (I.e., it’s a bad, bad thing.)
Here’s the problem in a sentence: If (1) bleeding heart libertarianism acquires its moral standing from (2) utilitarianism, which relies on an account of human welfare in terms of pleasures and pains, then bleeding heart libertarianism has no principled argument against (3) statism; it has at best a pragmatic objection.
So we’re clear, Rappaport himself, in “Statism I,” defines statism and decries it. He is not a statist; he is against statism. Agreed.
In response to: Natural Law, Natural Rights, and Private Property
In “Natural Law, Natural Rights, and Private Property,” Edward Feser offers a way for natural law theorists to be natural rights theorists, and he shows how natural law and natural rights provide the intellectual foundation for private property. This essay and his longer piece in Social Philosophy and Policy develop natural law theory in an interesting way. After all, Aquinas, a natural law theorist than which none greater can be thought, does not include private property in the natural law; he calls it an invention of human reason (ST IIa-IIae q. 66 a. 2 ad 1). Nicholas Wolterstorff, in chapter…
The Obama Administration has pushed the regrettable term abortifacient—a term I cannot spell without assistance and a word I dare not attempt to pronounce—into our public discourse. President Obama faces opposition that he cannot resist; he simply will not be able to win this debate, because he is attacking a fundamental liberty, enshrined as such in our Constitution and recognized as such but also believed as such by the vast majority of people. I have wondered why he would even attempt such an outrageous maneuver in any year, much less in an election year. The current rhetoric defending the birth control mandate centers on access to contraception for all women. But that’s clearly not what’s at stake.