Jim Leach is a retired Republican congressman from Iowa and former Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Over at The Daily Beast he defends federal funding for the humanities in the wake of Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal that would eliminate the NEH.
Here is a taste:
Even more significant than issues of commerce are the challenges of citizenship and public leadership when for the first time in history weapons of mass destruction have been proliferated and terrorism has been globalized. The health of nations is directly related to the depth of knowledge applied to public decision-making. Thinking from the gut is costly.
For instance, despite having gone to war in the Persian Gulf a decade earlier, Congress and executive branch policy-makers understood little of the Sunni/Shi’a divide when 9/11 hit. Similarly, despite the French experience in Algeria and the British and Russian in Afghanistan, we had little comprehension of the depth of Islamic antipathy to foreign intervention. Nor, despite the tactics of a Daniel Boone-style patriot named Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox,” who attacked British garrisons at night during the Revolutionary War and then vanished in South Carolina swamps during the day, we had little comprehension of the effectiveness of asymmetric warfare.
Every American senses that something is askew in our political system. Our judgment is under attack from traditional allies as well as international rivals. Instead of standing forthrightly up for old-fashioned American values—a Lockean respect for individual rights and a Burkean reverence for established social structures—we seem to be lashing out, accentuating domestic ruptures and escalating rather than alleviating international tensions. As a result an increasing number of people on the planet seem to think that America has lost its historical grip. We seem not only to be unschooled in foreign cultures but prone to misunderstand our own heritage.
The conclusion is self-evident. Just as we need to rebuild an infrastructure of roads and bridges, we need to strengthen our infrastructure of ideas.
Tyrants have good reason to fear the humanities. We do not. The humanities are America’s stock and trade. They are a national asset that we shortchange at our peril.
Read the entire piece here.