Two Excellent Responses to My Glenn Beck/David Barton Post

  1. barton-and-beck

Earlier tonight I wrote a post about a David Barton and Glenn Beck plan to bring their pseudohistory to American schools.  You can read it here.

Since I published the post I received two excellent comments.  I am re-posting them below.

The first comment comes from Yale history graduate student Michael Hattem:

Without money, we have to fight on platforms that don’t require large amounts of money. When you search for Barton on YouTube, it comes up with dozens (if not hundreds) of videos of him talking his nonsense. Why is there no series of videos by actual historians entitled, “Why David Barton is Wrong about the Founding?” That’s something that could be done relatively cheaply, if the inclination and will existed. In addition, we should petition the organizations in our field that have resources to put a small amount of them toward directly counteracting this initiative. Why can’t the AHA or OAH or similar organizations help provide the organizational impetus for actual historians willing to volunteer time to visit local public schools in their own areas. No distinguished speaker fees, no travel, just historians getting into schools FOR FREE through the imprimatur of our professional organizations. We don’t have the money that they have but it doesn’t mean there aren’t ways we can’t collectively counteract the willful miseducation of our nation’s youth about the fundamentals of American history.

After reading Michael’s post I began to rethink my Spring 2017 season of the Virtual Office Hours.  I was going to do something about history in the #ageoftrump, but now I am might do something on Barton.   We start filming this week.

The second comment comes from a regular reader of The Way of Improvement Leads Home who goes by the name “SpaceHistorian.”

I recently read Rick Perlstein’s excellent book, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan. He documented how a few wealthy Libertarian families, the Coors, the DeVos, the Mellon Scaifes, the Olins, the Bradleys, etc., poured money into right-wing think tanks (Heritage Foundation, Eagle Forum, American Enterprise Institute, CATO Institute, Hoover Institute, etc.) in order to take over the Republican Party with the goal of promoting the unholy mixture of Ayn Randian economic policies with alleged Judeo-Christian moral principles. The Koch Brothers came on the scene later but with many of the same Libertarian goals. All of this money funded AstroTurf groups that infiltrated the GOP at the local level, the state level and through Ronald Reagan, the federal government. These conservative think tanks have provided the so-called “experts” that regularly appear in newspapers, magazines, online and on TV network news shows and cable news shows all parroting the same bought and paid for Libertarian narrative. So this is a “revolution” that has been decades in the making and largely pulled off outside public view disguised as a average American citizen’s movement.

So how do we overcome decades of indoctrination, subversion, the takeover of all levels of government, the takeover of corporate media, and the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to build and defend this Libertarian/bastardized Christian worldview? Money equals power and influence in America. The more money, the more power, the more influence people and groups have in America. The people dedicated to the Libertarian/Christian alliance do not play by any rules or respect for the facts. All they care about are results which justifies their actions. So how do those of us with a sense of human decency, ethics and conscience battle the forces arrayed against us? We now live in a world where “alternative facts” are the new “truth” and evidence to the contrary is dismissed as fake news by those who traffic in producing and promoting fake news.

So solve these challenges and our Constitutional Republic just may survive to be enjoyed by our children and grandchildren. Fail and the United States ends the great experiment in democracy started in 1787. So no pressure Dr. Fea, no pressure at all sir.

“Though conservative think tanks get a lot of money, their money does not come from the wealthiest foundations by any means. There are plenty of liberals with enough money to match the conservatives. Wealthy liberals, however, want their money to go as directly as possible to the downtrodden and oppressed, with nothing significant designated for infrastructure, career development, or their intellectuals. From a position external to the liberal moral system this seems irrational and self-defeating. But from inside the moral system it seems natural.” (George Lakoff, “Moral Politics,” pp. 417-418).

The Lakoff quote resonates with me a great deal.  Part of it reminds me of some of the things I wrote about in this post.

5 thoughts on “Two Excellent Responses to My Glenn Beck/David Barton Post

  1. Great post. I particularly liked the quote, “There are plenty of liberals with enough money to match the conservatives. Wealthy liberals, however, want their money to go as directly as possible to the downtrodden and oppressed, with nothing significant designated for infrastructure, career development, or their intellectuals.” (This quote is in a book by Lakoff, Moral Politics.) The idea that we would value the truth as an end in itself quite apart from any specific political agenda is itself revolutionary and must be defended. It is one way of expressing a core insight of the Enlightenment. Unfortunately, this Enlightenment notion, which I see expressed in your piece above, has come under fire today, not only by the right but also by the left. The left, sometimes with reference to Nietzsche, post-modernism, or post-colonialism, is suspicious of such grand Enlightenment ideas. They are suspicious of those who claim to seek truth with a capital “T”. All truth is historically situated and serves some political purpose or so we are all too often taught to believe.

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    • Tim Schoettle: As I wrote in the post, I really resonated with the Lakoff quote. As a humanist who wants to go about the business of pursuing truth, wisdom, the examined life, etc… I often run into folks who see the purpose of the humanities as a means of promoting a particular political or social agenda. I don’t see public historu or public humanities that way. I have criticized both the left and the right for this. Yet I can see why it is an attractive approach at a place like the college where we teach. I wish we could have a full-blown conversation about this at Messiah, but I don’t see it happening. If these kinds of conversations do take place, I am afraid they are going to have to be done at the grass roots level. For example, why aren’t we discussing Fish’s piece–the one I brought up in the last meeting we attended together.

      And let me make this clear–my beef is with humanities as means of promoting political and social causes. This does not mean that I cannot champion humanities as a discipline that prepares people for the job market. They are two different things.

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  2. The Lakoff quote is misleading. It portrays conservatives as self-serving and liberals as interested in the downtrodden. Somehow Lakoff ignores that liberal ideology produced the ignoble Weather Underground, S.D.S., and the Black Panthers as well as the noble SCLC. Yes, conservatives produced the John Birch Society but in the end, the organizations listed may be imperfect but they are less harmful to the public good than Lakoff imagines. Context is important in historical understanding. Space Historian needs a lesson in history and classical conservatism as represented by William F. Buckley and David Brooks.

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    • Tim: I think you completely missed the point here. Space Historian is being critical of liberals here. He wonders why they fail to promote intellectual life. This was not meant as an attack on conservatives. I read it as praising conservatives for taking the long view of things. Isn’t that a conservative value.

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    • Tim: I have taken to heart the advice that Dr. Fea gave for historians about the “Five C’s of History” which includes context. I start with Classical Liberal Philosophy, think John Locke, Voltaire, Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, etc. and apply said philosophy to our 21st Century realities which ethically requires Social Liberalism ( Mill, Rousseau, Hobbes, Keynes, etc.).

      The modern Republican party, (started in 1964 with the rise of Goldwater) espouses a mix of Classic Liberalism and Conservative values. You had the negative reaction to the social welfare state and Keynesian globalism. The more corporate-friendly Republicans were supportive of Thatcher and Reagan (The Neo-Conservatives). Meanwhile, the “America is white Christian Nation,” “We want OUR country back” Republicans are in the same tent pushing a more traditionally conservative view.

      Thinkers like Robert Nozick and John Rawls help us better understand the split of liberal ideals into different parties and the conservative movements that sprung up in opposition. You can say that Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” was the libertarian response to John Rawls’ “A Theory of Justice.” Yet if you want to read one work that quantified modern Conservatism, go with Frank Meyer’s “In Defense of Freedom” written in 1962. This book was quite influential on William F. Buckley, Jr. The consensus at that time was the Conservative Philosophy was grounded in “an objective moral order” of “immutable standards by which human conduct should be judged.” Whether they emphasize human rights and freedoms or duties and responsibilities, they unanimously value “the human person” as the center of political and social thought. They oppose liberal attempts to use the State “to enforce ideological patterns on human beings.” They reject the centralized power and direction necessary to the “planning” of society. They join in defense of the Constitution “as originally conceived.” They are devoted to Western civilization and acknowledge the need to defend it against the “messianic” intentions of Communism. (Also read Barry Goldwater’s “The Conscience of a Conservative,” published in 1960)

      This split them from Libertarian Philosophy which was championed by William Graham Sumner (champion of Trump’s “The forgotten man” rhetoric), Henry Hazlitt, Herbert Spencer (survivial of the fittest aka Social Darwinism), H. L. Mencken, Ayn Rand, Robert Nozick, Milton Friedman, even Sci-Fi legend Robert Heinlein and so on. Historically for Conservative Christians, this is where Libertarianism falls short. Ayn Rand and other Libertarians promoted a moral order, Objectivism. It posits that you can have a moral law, without a Moral Law-Giver (i.e. the Judeo-Christian God). Libertarianism and Objectivism are both deeply rooted in the Epistemology that human reason alone is sufficient to determine Ethics. This allows selfishness to be the ultimate “ethic” for the individual.

      The point I was trying to make is how the few wealthy promoters of Libertarian political philosophy co-opted the Conservative Christian movement and merged into the dominant political philosophy of the Republican Party, most notably since the time of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House as he led an insurgency against the Clinton administration. Now you have the prominent leaders of the GOP claiming to be Christian while embracing the radical self-centered individual over society at all costs philosophy of Libertarianism. This justifies their “win at all costs” mentality and their refusal to ever compromise on any issue. You also see this in the popularity of Prosperity Gospel evangelists who are ardent supporters of the GOP and Trump, most famously, Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell, Jr. Trump personal spiritual adviser is Paula White, a student of Oral Roberts and a vociferous proponent of the Prosperity Gospel.

      So my question is how do we rescue the America that I believe to represent the best possible hope for the protection of the civil liberties of every American citizen from this unholy mix of Libertarian Christian political philosophy and practice?

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