George Will: The GOP is “a party of slow-learning careerists” who have tethered their “careers to a downward-spiraling scofflaw”

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I am glad that conservative columnist George Will is coming to Messiah College on October 31, 2019.  In yesterday’s column, Will rips into the Republican Party and its “canine loyalty” to Donald Trump.  Here is a taste:

In Federalist 51, James Madison anticipated a wholesome rivalry and constructive tension between the government’s two political branches: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected to the constitutional rights of the place.” Equilibrium between the branches depends on “supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives.” But equilibrium has vanished as members of Congress think entirely as party operatives and not at all as institutionalists.

Trump is not just aggressively but lawlessly exercising the interests of his place, counting on Congress, after decades of lassitude regarding its interests, being an ineffective combatant. Trump’s argument, injected into him by subordinates who understand that absurdity is his vocation, is essentially that the Constitution’s impeachment provisions are unconstitutional.

The canine loyalty of Senate Republicans will keep Trump in office. But until he complies with House committee subpoenas, the House must not limply hope federal judges will enforce their oversight powers. Instead, the House should wield its fundamental power, that of the purse, to impose excruciating costs on executive branch noncompliance. This can be done.

In 13 months, all congressional Republicans who have not defended Congress by exercising “the constitutional rights of the place” should be defeated. If congressional Republicans continue their genuflections at Trump’s altar, the appropriate 2020 outcome will be a Republican thrashing so severe — losing the House, the Senate and the electoral votes of, say, Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina and even Texas — that even this party of slow-learning careerists might notice the hazards of tethering their careers to a downward-spiraling scofflaw.

Read the entire piece here.

Trump Will Speak at the Value Voters Summit on Saturday

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Christian Broadcasting Network has the scoop.  Trump will join the following speakers at the Omni Shoreham Hotel: Gary Bauer, Bill Bennett, Sam Brownback, Sebastian Gorka, Dana Loesch, Mark Meadows, Eric Metaxas, Oliver North, Tony “Mulligan” Perkins, Dennis Prager, Steve Scalise, and Todd Starnes.

I was also interested to see that David Muselman, a student at evangelical Taylor University, will speak.  He defended Mike Pence’s visit to Taylor last May.

There are also a host of breakout sessions and breakfasts:

  • Columbia International University, an evangelical Bible school (formerly Columbia Bible College), will host a breakfast on Friday morning.  Speakers at this event will include CIU president Mark Smith and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.  You may recall that Smith was recently accused of covering-up his son’s sexual harassment when he was president of Ohio Christian University.  I have never known Columbia International University to be a such a politicized institution.  Smith appears to have taken it in this direction.
  • Todd Starnes will sign copies of his recent book in the wake of his firing from Fox News.
  • Other sessions include: “Speech, Sex, and Silenced Parents: The Darkening Landscape of American Education;” “Two Paths to Becoming a Young Conservative Influencer;” “Why Christians Should Support Israel;” “The Progressive Assault on Christian Freedom of Conscience;” “How Conservatives Can Win in 2020.”  If future historians want to see how evangelical Christians have influenced the Republican Party and vice-versa, they should read the proceedings of these sessions.

2 final comments:

  1. This will be a court evangelical-fest
  2. The evangelicals who attend this will return home very afraid.

Episode 55: The History of “Free Enterprise”

PodcastIn conservative political circles, the idea of “free enterprise” is revered with a religious zeal. This is especially interesting as these political ideals are often held by evangelical Christians. Host John Fea explores American religious history’s “business turn.” They are joined by Cornell historian Lawrence Glickman (@LarryGlickman), the author of Free Enterprise: An American History.

Conservatives are Not Happy With the *American Pageant* U.S. History Textbook

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Here we go again.  This time conservatives are upset that American Pageanta popular school American history textbook, says negative things about Donald Trump.  According to Christopher Vondracek’s piece at The Washington Times, the American Pageant describes Trump as a “New York City real estate mogul and reality-television personality” who “bullied, belittles, and bamboozled sixteen rivals to snag–some said hi-jack–the Republican nomination.” It also says that Trump has a “cavalier disregard for the facts” and is the “prince of plutocrats.”

A few quick responses:

First, much of this description of Trump is true.  In fact, I think Trump would probably agree with some of this description.  If I were writing the textbook I don’t think I would say that Trump “hi-jacked” the nomination.  I also think the “prince of plutocrats” is a bit over the top.  But everything else seems pretty accurate.   Whatever Trump does in his last fifteen months in office, this will all be part of his legacy.   To quote Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton, “history has its eyes on you.”

Second, Vondracek and The Washington Times wrongly believe that most students learn American history from reading the textbook and memorizing the facts within it.  This assumes that students actually read the textbook.  And when they do, they don’t remember much after the exam.

Third, if I were a  high school history teacher I would be offended by this piece.  It assumes that history teachers are in the business of merely delivering facts.   Good history teachers use knowledge to teach students how to think about the world in terms of context, causality, contingency, complexity, and change over time.   The best teachers  “open-up” the textbook (to use Sam Wineburg’s phrase) by comparing the narrative with primary sources and secondary sources with different slants on the given subject.

The 1619 Project: A “patriotism not of hagiography but of struggle”

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Over at Boston Review, Princeton graduate student David Walsh wonders why the conservative view of “patriotism” is so “fragile.”  He comes up with three reasons for this:

  1. The conservative propensity for “viewing freedom and equality as incompatible.”
  2. Conservatives are invested in the “explicitly racist power arrangements that the 1619 Protect criticizes.
  3. Conservatives “revere history as a source of  incontestable authority, as opposed to a storehouse of fallible human experience.”

Read the entire piece here.

Penn Live: “It’s time to remember the central role slavery played in the making of America”

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This piece at today’s Penn Live/Harrisburg Patriot-News will look somewhat familiar to readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  A taste:

In August 1619, a shipment of “20 And odd Negroes” from Angola arrived at Point Comfort, Virginia. They got there because earlier in the year English pirates stole them from a Portuguese slave ship headed for Vera Cruz, Mexico, and sold them to the earliest Jamestown settlers in exchange for food.

While the story of these Africans is complicated, historians agree that the August 1619 shipment was the beginning of slavery in the English colonies of North America. On Sunday, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of slavery in the colonies, The New York Times released a series of essays and a website called “The 1619 Project.” The Times describes the project as a “major initiative” to “reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who were are.”

The 1619 Project is excellent. Some of our best scholars of African American history, slavery, and race have contributed articles. The racist legacy of slavery in America, they argue, has shaped everything from capitalism to health care, and traffic patterns to music. I hope that teachers will use it in their classrooms.

But not everyone is happy about the 1619 Project. Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh called it a “hoax” and a threat to “American greatness.” Texas Senator Ted Cruz told his Twitter followers that the project is a political attempt by the left to rewrite America’s history. He questioned the journalistic integrity of The Times

Read the rest here.

Are Conservatives Unable to Deal with the Complexity of American History?

Why Study HistoryThe responses to the 1619 Project sure make it look that way.

Complexity, of course, is one of the 5 Cs of historical thinking.

Over at Slate, Rebecca Onion traces the conservative backlash to The New York Times project back to the “history wars” of the 1990s.  Here is a taste of her piece, “A Brief History of the History Wars“:

The controversial history standards, along with the defeated and revised Enola Gay exhibit, provided a fine set of talking points for Republicans seeking election in 1995. Presidential candidate Bob Dole referenced the Enola Gay exhibit controversy in a speech to the American Legion in September 1995, calling the national history standards an effort “to denigrate America’s story while sanitizing and glorifying other cultures.” Newt Gingrich—a history Ph.D. who has long delighted in claiming the authority of “historian,” despite having left the academy in 1978 after being denied tenure—made hay of the exhibit and the standards in his own efforts to flip the House to the Republicans. “In a postelection interview,” Wallace writes, “Gingrich said that the new Republican leadership intended to improve the country’s moral climate, especially by ‘teaching the truth about American history.’ ” Later, Gingrich told the National Governors Association: “The Enola Gay fight was a fight, in effect, over the reassertion by most Americans that they’re sick and tired of being told by some cultural elite that they ought to be ashamed of their country.”

By 2019, these arguments have become standard conservative fare, and liberals continue to have a hard time countering them. The New York Times Magazine’s use of the term reframe to describe its intention in reconceptualizing the sweep of American history drew particular conservative ire. I think that’s because it sounds a little like “revisionist,” a favorite trigger word for history culture warriors. In 2003, when George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice used it to slam those who criticized the foundations of the war in Iraq, then-president of the American Historical Association James McPherson observed: “Neither Bush nor Rice offered a definition of this phrase, but their body language and tone of voice appeared to suggest that they wanted listeners to understand ‘revisionist history’ to be a consciously falsified interpretation of the past to serve partisan or ideological purposes in the present.”

Read the rest here.

Onion is right about conservative’s resistance to words like “reframing” and “revisionism.”  Yesterday I argued the same thing about The 1619 Project.  I have also said a few things over the years about revisionist history.  This is from Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past:

…the responsibility of the historian is to resurrect the past.  Yet, because we live in the present, far removed from the events of the past, our ability to construct what happened in by-gone eras is limited.  This is why the doing of history requires an act of the imagination.  Sometimes we do not have the sources to provide a complete picture of “what happened” at any given time….

Even the best accounts of the past are open to change based on new evidence or the work of historians who approach a subject with a different lens of interpretation.  In this sense, history is more about competing perceptions of the past than it is about nailing down a definitive account of a specific event or life…While the past never changes, history changes all the time.  Think, for example, about two eyewitness accounts of the same auto accident.  Even if we assume that the drivers involved in the accident believe that they are telling the truth about what happened, it is still likely that the police will receive two very different accounts  of how the accident occurred and two different accounts of who is to blame or who caused the accident.  It is thus up to the police officer in charge, or perhaps a judge, to weigh the evidence and come up with a plausible interpretation of this historical event.  But let’s imagine two weeks after the paperwork is filed and the case is closed, a reliable eyewitness to the accident emerges with new evidence to suggest that the person who the judge held responsible for the accident was actually not at fault.  This new information leads to a new historical narrative of what happened.  History has changed.  This is called revisionism, and it is the lifeblood of the historical profession.

The word revisionism carries a negative connotation in American society because it is usually associated with changing true facts of the past in order to fit some kind of agenda in the present.  But actually, the historian who is called a “revisionist” received a high compliment.  In his book Who Owns History?, Pulitzer Prize-winning history professor Eric Foner recalls a conversation with a Newsweek reporter who asked him, “When did historians stop relating facts and start all this revising of interpretations of the past?”  Foner responded, “Around the time of Thucydides.” (Thucydides is the Greek writer who is often credited with being one of the first historians in the West).  Those who believe “revisionism” is a negative term often misunderstands the way it is used by historians.  Revisionists are not in the business of changing the facts of history.  Any good revisionist interpretation of history will be based on evidence–documents or other artifacts that people in the past left behind.  This type of reconstruction of the past always takes place in community.  We know whether a particular revision of the past is good because it is vetted by a community of historians.  This is called peer review.  When bad history does make it into print, we rely on the community of historians to call this to our attention through reviews.

A few examples might help illustrate what I mean when I say that revisionism is the lifeblood of history.  Without revisionism, our understanding of racial relations in the American South after the Civil War would still be driven by what historians call the “Dunning School.”  William Dunning was an early twentieth-century who suggested that Reconstruction–the attempt to bring civil rights and voting rights to Southern blacks in the wake of the Civil War–was a mistake.  The Northern Republicans who promoted Reconstruction and the various “carpetbaggers” who came to the South to start schools for blacks and work for racial integration destroyed the Southern way of life.  In the end, however, the South did indeed rise again.  In Dunning’s portrayal, Southerners eventually rallied to overthrow this Northern invasion.  They removed blacks from positions of power and established a regime of segregation that would last for much of the twentieth century.  These so-called redeemers of Southern culture are the heroes of the Dunning School, an interpretation of Reconstruction that would inform D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915), one of the most popular, and most racist, motion pictures of the early twentieth century.  In the 1930s the Dunning School was challenged by a group of historians who began to interpret the period of Reconstruction from the perspective of the former slaves . Rather than viewing the blacks in the post-Civil War South as people without power, these revisionist authors provided a much richer understanding of the period that included a place for all historical actors, regardless of skin color or social standing, in the story of this important movement in American history.

Conservatives, Reactionaries, Liberals and the Left

Andrew Sullivan‘s recent piece at New York Magazine is helpful and worth your time.  Here is a taste:

But there is a place where conservatives and reactionaries find common cause — and that is when the change occurring is drastic, ideological, imposed by an elite, and without any limiting principle. This is not always easy to distinguish from more organic change — but there is a distinction. On immigration, for example, has the demographic transformation of the U.S. been too swift, too revolutionary, and too indifferent to human nature and history? Or is it simply a new, if challenging, turn in a long, American story of waves of immigrants creating a country that’s an ever-changing kaleidoscope? If you answer “yes” to the first, you’re a reactionary. If “yes” to the second, you’re a liberal. If you say yes to both, you’re a conservative. If you say it’s outrageous and racist even to consider these questions, you’re a card-carrying member of the left.

In a new essay, Anton explains his view of the world: “What happens when transformative efforts bump up against permanent and natural limits? Nature tends to bump back. The Leftist response is always to blame nature; or, to be more specific, to blame men; or to be even more specific, to blame certain men.” To be even more specific, cis white straight men.

But what are “permanent and natural limits” to transformation? Here are a couple: humanity’s deep-seated tribalism and the natural differences between men and women. It seems to me that you can push against these basic features of human nature, you can do all you can to counter the human preference for an in-group over an out-group, you can create a structure where women can have fully equal opportunities — but you will never eradicate these deeper realities.

The left is correct that Americans are racist and sexist; but so are all humans. The question is whether, at this point in time, America has adequately managed to contain, ameliorate, and discourage these deeply human traits. I’d say that by any reasonable standards in history or the contemporary world, America is a miracle of multiracial and multicultural harmony. There’s more to do and accomplish, but the standard should be what’s doable within the framework of human nature, not perfection.

Read the entire piece here.

Is David Brooks the Last American Whig?

Brooks speaking

No newspaper, magazine, or website is credible these days until it publishes a “David Brooks spiritual pilgrimage” article. 🙂

Most of these pieces are reviews of his latest book The Second Mountain.  Check out examples of this genre at The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Columbia Journalism Review, Religion News Service, Christianity Today, Times of Israel, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and The Christian Century.

The latest Brooks spiritual pilgrimage piece can be found at America magazine where writer Bill McGarvey explores The New York Times columnist’s interest in the writings of St. Augustine and Dorothy Day.

What struck me most about McGarvey’s piece was a paragraph in which writer E.J. Dionne calls Brooks “the last living, surviving American Whig:

“David is the last living, surviving American Whig,” says E. J. Dionne Jr., a Washington Post columnist and Brooks’s frequent debate partner on NPR. In the mid-19th century, the Whig Party—typified by Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln—advocated for “old national greatness conservatism…internal improvements, use the government to build the country and its competitive capacity. But there was also a very strong moral and religious strain to the Whigs,” he says. “Even in David’s most conservative period, he was always drawn to the communitarian strains of conservatism.”

Read the entire piece here.

If you want to learn more about the Whig Party, start with Daniel Walker Howe’s book What Hath God Wrought or Allen Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer PresidentIf you want to go even deeper, check out Howe’s The Political Culture of the American Whigs or Michael Holt’s The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party.

Conservatives Are at Each Other’s Throats. Alan Jacobs Weighs-In

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I have not been following this whole David French–Sohrab Ahmari dust-up happening right now conservative circles, but I am guessing it has something to do with Trump.

But I did get a kick out of this exchange between an editor at First Things and David French.

But wait, there’s more:

As I noted above, I am not really following this debate.  But when Alan Jacobs weighs-in on something I read it.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Atlantic:

A story commonly told these days on both the left and the right says that American Christians, and especially evangelicals, are solidly behind President Donald Trump. The real story is far more complex, and has led many Christians to some fairly serious soul-searching, and others to ask hard questions about whether we even know what an “evangelical” is. Among Christians, as among so many other Americans, one of the chief effects of the rise of Trump has been to widen some fault lines and expose others that we didn’t even know existed. It is at least possible that some good will come from this exposure.

You can see some of these fault lines opening up in a recent controversy that has greatly occupied many journalists, scholars, and ordinary people who care about the relations between Christianity and conservatism. The controversy began when Sohrab Ahmari, the op-ed editor of the New York Post, tweeted, “There’s no polite, David French-ian third way around the cultural civil war”—referring to the lawyer, former soldier, and senior writer of National Review who has often made the case that Christians in the public arena need to practice civility. Ahmari then expanded that tweet into a full-scale attack on French, and since then, the conservative world has been fairly obsessed with adjudicating the dispute.

It’s important to note that Ahmari sees the differences between him and French as rooted, ultimately, in their different Christian traditions: Catholicism for Ahmari—who recently published a memoir of his conversion—and evangelical Protestantism. But whether this is indeed the heart of the matter, the dispute so far hasn’t fallen out that way. Some Catholics are with French, some Protestants with Ahmari. And in any case, I’m more interested in the ways this dispute illuminates questions that all Christians involved in public life need to reckon with than in choosing sides. How Christians choose to reckon with these questions will have consequences for all Americans, whether religious or not.

Read the rest here.

Is Pete Buttigieg’s Religious Rhetoric Any Different Than the Rhetoric of the Christian Right?

Buttigieg

Peter Wehner makes a pretty good case at The Atlantic.  Here is a taste:

..And yet, precisely on the question of religion as an instrumental good, there is real cause for concern about Mayor Pete. His insistence that “Christian faith is going to point you in a progressive direction” is a bright-red flag, and ought to worry Christians regardless of their politics.

To say that Christianity points you in a progressive direction is in effect to say that Christianity and progressivism are synonymous. They aren’t. Neither are Christianity and conservatism. Christianity stands apart from and in judgment of all political ideologies; it doesn’t lend itself to being put in neat and tidy political categories. That doesn’t mean that at any particular moment in time a Christian ethic won’t lead people of faith to more closely align with one political and philosophical movement over another. But the temptation, always, is to politicize faith in ways that ultimately are discrediting.

Read the entire piece here.

Wehner’s piece is similar to the argument of James Davison Hunter in To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.  Hunter calls out both the Religious Right and the Religious Left for turning to electoral politics to advance their missions.  He offers another way defined by “faithful presence.”

Critiquing Liberalism

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A map of Wendell Berry’s Port William

Over at The Front Porch Republic, Jeff Bilbro has a fascinating and brilliant review of a conference at Calvin College titled “Faith and Democracy in America: Christianity and Liberalism Rightly Understood.”

Here is a taste:

In early December, the Acton Institute and Calvin College’s Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics co-hosted a conference ambitiously titled “Faith and Democracy in America: Christianity and Liberalism Rightly Understood.” The dueling keynote titles caught my attention. Patrick Deneen was slated to give the first one: “Liberalism is Not Free: The Myths of Religious Liberty.” The next day, Jamie Smith would speak in defense of liberalism: “Thank God for Liberalism: An Alternative History Without Nostalgia.” Since I respect the work of both these scholars and have learned much from their writings, I made plans to attend. The conference didn’t disappoint, though I do wish the format would have allowed for a more genuine back-and-forth between Deneen and his critics. In what follows, I’ll try to avoid too much inside baseball and, rather than attempting to summarize all of the talks, will distill some of the central questions the conference raised for me.

Kristen Johnson, a professor at Western Seminary, articulated the conference’s animating questions when she asked whether Christians can find within a pluralistic space opportunities to live radically faithful lives. The danger, of course, is that a liberal, pluralistic space will so malform Christians that the distinctive character of a gospel-formed life is warped. In Smith’s book Awaiting the King he draws on Oliver O’Donovan to claim that “liberalism itself lives on borrowed capital and is only possible because of the dent of the gospel and the formative effects of Christian practices on Western societies” (17). But as liberalism draws down this moral (and, I would add, ecological) capital, can churches sustain the kinds of vibrant communities and institutions and practices necessary to form virtuous citizens, citizens whose first allegience is to the Kingdom of God? (I pursued this line of questioning further in my review of Smith’s book.)

Several of the speakers sidestepped these difficult questions by defending liberalism’s promises of equality and freedom without reckoning with the growing evidence that American liberalism is increasingly failing to deliver on these promises. Speakers such as Samuel Gregg, William Katerberg, Kristin Du Mez, and others pointed out that women and peasants and racial minorities were oppressed in pre-liberal social arrangements, as if that, in itself, answers Deneen’s critique of liberalism.

To this end, several potshots were lobbed at Wendell Berry as a nostalgic reactionary. It is much easier, however, to make fun of Berry for being nostalgic than it is to respond to his warning that our liberal way of life is causing irreparable ecological, cultural, and moral damage. (Even my three-year-old daughter has mastered the art of criticizing Berry: if I am too engrossed in my writing, she leans toward me and repeats “Wendell Berry is a bad dude,” knowing this is a sure way to get my attention.) Yet there are grave consequences when a culture forms its members to pursue wealth and happiness by cutting themselves loose from place and community and tradition. (One of these, as Comment recently explored, is loneliness, which is just one of liberalism’s fruits.)

These defenders of liberalism’s benefits, then, tend to criticize a straw man rather than actually responding to the arguments of people like Berry or Deneen. Indeed, Deneen himself explicitly acknowledges liberalism’s Christian origins and its good results:

Nor does reflecting upon what follows liberalism’s self-destruction imply that we must simply devise its opposite, or deny what was of great or enduring value in the achievements of liberalism. Liberalism’s appeal lies in its continuities with the deepest commitments of the Western political tradition, particularly efforts to secure liberty and human dignity through the constraint of tyranny, arbitrary rule, and oppression. In this regard, liberalism is rightly considered to be based on essential political commitments that were developed over centuries in classical and Christian thought and practice. (Why Liberalism Failed 19)

In other words, liberalism can be marked by the gospel and still be a political and cultural dead end. As Ivan Illich argued, corruptio optimi pessima.

By not acknowledging this possibility, these speakers largely failed to grapple with Deneen’s argument that liberalism is not, in fact, bringing about genuine freedom or just forms of society. Instead, it is sorting society into a small group of winners and a large group of losers. As Deneen puts it, “Society today has been organized around the Millian principle that ‘everything is allowed,’ at least so long as it does not result in measurable (mainly physical) harm. It is a society organized for the benefit of the strong” (148). Smith has elsewhere made a similar case himself, noting that “the dismantling of cultural jigs makes the poor especially vulnerable.”

Deneen’s book is a tour-de-force.  Berry, of course, is a prophet. 🙂  Both offer powerful critiques of liberalism.  It seems like their arguments and the implications of their arguments need to be engaged with something more than just an appeal to liberalism’s defense of oppressed groups.  I think we need less, not more, of this kind of identity politics, especially when it comes to any discussion about the future of democracy and the common good.  (And I include white identity politics in all of this, which is one of the reasons I  am such a critic of Trump).  Bilbro, Deneen, and Berry are drawing us to things that affect all of us as human beings–environmental degradation (and its impact on the poor), the destruction of places and local economies, the decline in vibrant communities defined by loving one’s neighbor over self-interest, and the “sorting of society between winners and losers,” to name a few. (Of course such universal human appeals like the ones I mentioned above are also part of the Enlightenment liberal project.  This is complicated).

Once could look at this another way.  Bilbro names conference speakers such as Samuel Gregg, William Katerberg, and Kristin Du Mez who “defended liberalism’s promises of equality of freedom without reckoning with the growing evidence that American liberalism increasingly failed to deliver on these promises.”  I was not at the conference, but I have read Du Mez’s paper (which is linked in Bilbro’s essay).  If liberalism has been so successful, then why is it necessary for Du Mez to ask “where are the women?”  I am sure Du Mez would respond to this question by saying that the work of liberalism is not yet done.  Or perhaps she would point to some of the limits of liberalism.  But it does sound like she believes that the liberal democratic order is still the best hope of progress for women and other oppressed groups.  And there’s the rub.  Bilbro, Deneen, Berry (and I would add others like Geneva College’s Eric Miller, Syracuse’s Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn, or Pomona College’s Susan McWilliams to this list) do not think liberalism is, ironically, our best path forward.

Read Bilbro’s piece here.

Has Liberalism Failed?

Liberalism FailedThis is the title of a Commonweal forum on Notre Dame political scientist Patrick Deneen‘s book Why Liberalism Failed.  Here is an intro to the forum from the Commonweal editors:

Although there’s always more than one good way to write about any book worth reviewing, Commonweal does not usually review a book more than once. Sometimes, however, a book takes on an importance beyond itself—by provoking a new discussion or marking a cultural shift—and then we may make an exception. Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed (Yale University Press, $30, 248 pp.) has turned out to be just such a book. Alan Wolfe reviewed it for us (rather dismissively, it must be said) in the February 12 issue of the magazine, but the editors agreed that there was more to say about some of the questions Deneen raises. First, has liberalism failed, as he claims? And if so, why? Is the liberal tradition equipped to correct its own shortcomings, or must it be abandoned altogether? In that case, what are the alternatives? In the age of Trump, when liberal democracy appears to be on the ropes in much of the world, such questions suddenly seem less speculative. We asked three people—Samuel Moyn and Bryan Garsten of Yale University and Commonweal’s own Matthew Sitman—to respond to Deneen’s arguments. Deneen himself kindly agreed to answer their criticisms and, somewhat less kindly, offers Commonweal a few criticisms of his own. The magazine, he informs us, is about as moribund as liberalism. Hospitality requires that we give him the last word, at least for now.

Read Garsten’s response here.

Read Moym’s response here.

Study: Churchgoing Conservatives are More Moderate on Race, Immigration, and Identity than Conservatives Who Do Not Go to Church

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Emily Ekins shares the findings of her Cato Institute study in a piece at The New York Times titled “The Liberalism of the Religious Right.”  A taste:

…new data suggest the left may have a lot more common ground with some of these conservatives than it thinks.  In a Democracy Fund Voter Study Group report, I found that religious conservatives are far more supportive of diversity and immigration than secular conservatives.  Religion appears to actually be moderating conservative attitudes, particularly on some of the most polarizing issues of our time: race, immigration and identity.

Churchgoing Trump voters have more favorable feelings toward African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, Muslims and immigrants compared with nonreligious Trump voters.  This holds up even while accounting for demographic factors like education and race.

Read the entire piece here.

Tweet Thread of the Day: The Historiography of American Conservatism

Buckley and Reagan

Last weekend Politico published historian Geoffrey Kabaservice‘s piece “Liberals Don’t Know Much About Conservative History.”

Kabaservice writes:

The end-of-century victories of Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich, however, forced historians to realize that conservatism could no longer be dismissed as a mere road bump on the inexorable progression toward a liberal future. The result, over the past two decades, has been a veritable tsunami of historical literature on conservatism. Virtually all of these works have been written by liberals. Nonetheless, historians of this new generation consider themselves to be unbiased and even sympathetic observers of conservatism. Many believe their collective efforts have produced a profound historical understanding of conservatism as an intellectual and cultural phenomenon, and thus contributed in some measure to bringing politically opposed citizens together.

Color me skeptical. I was a graduate student at the beginning of this new wave of conservative studies and I couldn’t help but notice that it coincided with the historical profession’s purge of any scholars who could be described as Republicans or conservatives. Some of the new works on conservatism have been excellent, others awful. But nearly all reveal the pitfalls for liberals writing about a movement with which they have no personal experience. If you’re a historian who has not a single conservative colleague—and perhaps not even one conservative friend—chances are you’ll approach conservatism as anthropologists once approached tribes they considered remote, exotic, and quite possibly dangerous.

The result is that two decades’ worth of scholarship hasn’t contributed as much as one might have hoped to our understanding of conservatism, especially in the age of Trump. This is particularly true of the works that have been most popular with the broader public. That’s a shame, because historians could provide deeper answers than they have so far to the questions many citizens now wrestle with: How did our political system become so divided and dysfunctional? To what extent is the conservative movement responsible for Trump’s rise? What have been the movement’s greatest successes as well as failures, and what relevance do they have to our understanding of ourselves as a nation and a people?

Thomas Sugrue, Director of American Studies at New York University responded to Kabaservice’s piece in a very informative Twitter thread.  Graduate students and advanced undergrads interested in American conservatism should read this thread.  Here it is:

 

Princeton’s Robert George on Intellectual and Ideological Diversity in the Academy

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While I was visiting a big state university a couple of weeks ago I had a robust, spirited, and civil conversation with the history faculty about how to teach controversial or morally problematic issues.  Many of the history professors in the room said that they use their classrooms to advocate for certain political causes (all on the left) or see no problem giving their personal opinion about a particular issue or idea that arises from the study of the past.

I pushed back. I wondered whether the history classroom was primarily the place where such moral criticism should happen.  Those familiar with my Why Study History?: A Historical Introduction know that I think there is a difference between moral philosophy (ethics) and history.  Though I obviously have my opinions, and many of them are informed by my understanding of the past, I rarely bring those opinions into the classroom.  For example, the only time I talk about Donald Trump in my classroom is when he gets something wrong about history or uses the past irresponsibly to justify this or that policy.   I do the same thing with any public figure who manipulates the past for political gain.

In other words, my blog and other social media feeds are not the best representations of what my classroom looks like.

Robert George of Princeton University is very conservative.  I have seen him defending moral conservatism in public talks, in writing, and on social media.  But if I read his recent interview with Matthew Stein at The College Fix, I don’t think these conservative political and moral convictions dominate his classroom.  George has some very interesting things to say about intellectual and ideological diversity in the classroom. Here is a taste:

The College Fix: In your Open Minds Conference panel, you mentioned that you don’t think professors should “use their classrooms as a soapbox for advocacy,” and that you and professors like Cornel West make your classrooms as intellectually stimulating and valuable as possible by honestly portraying both sides of an argument. This seems to hit on a big issue with the universities today, as many professors of the “progressive orthodoxy” you later mentioned seem to use their positions to influence their students into becoming activists of related social causes. How do you think society can address this issue, particularly given the system of tenure and the sheer magnitude of the problem?

Robert George: Like most of the problems in academia—and society more broadly—today, what is needed above all is courage. We need the courage to speak the truth even when it is uncomfortable, and even when truth-speaking carries risks. Professors who seek to indoctrinate their students are betraying a sacred trust. They are supposed to be educators. If there is an antonym to “educating,” it’s “indoctrinating.” Professors (and other teachers) who engage in indoctrination need to be confronted. Certainly administrators need to do this. Fellow faculty members need to do it. And students themselves need to do it, too.

Is this risky, especially for students? You bet it is. But that’s where the virtue of courage comes in. All of us—including students—need to muster the courage to call out teachers who betray their sacred trust. In addition, professors who understand the importance of truly educating students, and who grasp the fundamental difference between education and indoctrination, need to set an excellent example for their colleagues—especially younger colleagues. Together, we can establish a milieu that powerfully discourages indoctrination.

CF: You also mentioned that you should create an atmosphere of “unsettling” each other in the classroom. Looking at the campus more generally, there are continually accounts of the opposite atmosphere in regards to discussing “unsettling ideas,” whether it be by an outside speaker being shut down or students on campus being afraid to express unpopular viewpoints. How can this negative general atmosphere on campus be improved to encourage students to act out the ideal intellectual atmosphere that you described?

RG: Again, courage is the key. Students must have the courage to express dissent—even if they are alone or in a small minority in the class in holding a particular view. And faculty members need to model courage for their students—and for their colleagues (especially younger colleagues). All of us must overcome the natural fear we feel in oppressive environments of the sort that too often exist today in college, high school, and even middle school classrooms. And when a dissenter does speak up in defiance of a campus dogma, all of us (and not only those who happen to share his or her dissenting opinion) need swiftly to provide that individual with support.

That is how we will establish an environment in which people are free—and feel and know they are free—to speak their minds, thus benefiting the entire community by contributing to robust, civil campus debates.

CF: Identity politics was one issue you touched on in the Q&A, which you said has a negative effect on both college campuses and society at large. Could you speak a little more on how identity politics and student groups organized around group identity has negatively affected the university? Are there any common issues of identity politics amongst the faculty? Has it had any effects on your or other professors’ ability to create the positive intellectual atmosphere you previously mentioned?

RG: Identity politics, and the dogmas of the phenomenon that has come to be known as “intersectionality,” harm learning environments by encouraging groupthink and stigmatizing dissent.

One especially regrettable consequence of the rise of identitarianism is the pressure placed on female and minority students to hold and express opinions that are in line with what women and members of minority groups are “supposed” to think. If you are female, you are “supposed” to hold a certain view on abortion and the status of unborn human life. If you are black, you are “supposed” to express a certain view on the desirability of affirmative action programs of certain sorts. If you are Latino, you are “supposed” to have a certain set of beliefs on immigration policy.

I find this reprehensible. People need to think for themselves. And they need to do that, and need to know that they are entitled to do that, whether they are male or female, black, white, green, blue, or purple.

 

Read the entire interview here.  He also has some interesting things to say about Liberty University.

Are Dutch-Americans “The Most Conservative Americans?”

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As some of you know, I have been making regular visits to Grand Rapids, Michigan these days.  (If you don’t know why you haven’t been reading this blog regularly enough.  Shame on you!  :-))  I have thus had an opportunity to learn more about the Dutch Calvinist culture that permeates much of Western Michigan.

So when my friend “Buffalo” Doug Anderson called my attention to Michael Douma’s recent blog post, I was intrigued.  Douma is a historian of the Dutch in America and the author of brand new book on historical thinking.  Here is a taste of his piece, “‘The Most Conservative Americans’?“:

An article in the The Economist titled “Why are Dutch-Americans so different from the Dutch?”  lumps together all Dutch Americans, by which it means a few Michigan politicians and the residents of the city of Holland, Michigan, to explain why they are such backward conservatives.  The article’s subtitle betrays the game the author wants to play: “The most conservative Americans, the most liberal Europeans.”

By what measure, I ask, are Dutch Americans the most conservative Americans?   Perhaps the author is not aware of Orthodox Jews or the Amish, or the average Southern or Midwestern evangelical, who, culturally, is likely to be more conservative than the Average Dutch American.

At any rate, to explain why Dutch Americans are so conservative, the author interviewed Dr. Robert Swierenga, recognized authority on Dutch Americans, resident of Holland, Michigan, and author of a three-volume history of Holland, Michigan. Oh my mistake.  They didn’t interview Dr. Swierenga, or any other of the dozens of historians who have written books on Dutch American history. No, to learn more about the topic The Economist interviewed Jay Peters, local Democratic politician and failed mayoral candidate.

Peters’ response is full of hyperbole.  “The people who left the Netherlands were some of the most conservative Dutch-speaking people on the planet.”  Well, since most of the Dutch-speaking people on the planet were in the Netherlands, this is hardly a surprise. Then again, it’s not even entirely true.  The Dutch-speaking Boers of South Africa, the colonial administrators of the Netherlands East Indies, the slave-holding plantation owners in Dutch Suriname were all in a variety of ways more conservative than the backwater peasants from the Netherlands who emigrated to the United States.

Read the rest here.

The Cornel West–Robert George Road Show Discuss MLK

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Robert George and Cornel West at Arizona State University, January 2018 (Creative Commons)

Check out Adelle Banks’s piece at Religion News Service on a recent event sponsored by Baylor University’s program in Washington D.C.  I am encouraged when I hear conservative Robert George and progressive Cornel West working together to find common ground.  At this event they discussed the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Here is a taste of Banks’s article:

West said he’s had to answer critics who can’t understand how he travels around the country with George: “I say, ‘Have you met him? Have you sat down and talked with him?’”

They sat onstage, comfortably taking turns highlighting how King had crossed divides in search of his goal of a “beloved community.”

West and George agree that the emphasis on King should be on his role as a Christian minister, though his civil rights activism is also grounded in his being a product of the black community.

“The last thing we ever want to do with Brother Martin is view him as some isolated icon on a pedestal to be viewed in a museum,” said West, professor of the practice of public philosophy at Harvard University. “He’s a wave in an ocean, a tradition of a people for 400 years so deeply hated, but taught the world so much about love and how to love.”

Read the rest here.

If you enjoyed this piece, you may also enjoy West and George discussing the liberal arts and the purpose of education:

 

Franklin Graham: “Progressive? That’s just another word for godless”

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Court evangelical Franklin Graham is traveling through California to make sure Christians vote for conservative candidates.  Here is a taste of a piece on Graham’s tour at The Hill:

Evangelist leader and vocal President Trump supporter Franklin Graham is currently on tour in California to urge Christians to vote in the upcoming primary as part of an attempt to combat progressive policy in the state, The New York Times reported.

Graham, son of the late Billy Graham, is taking a three-bus caravan up the middle of California, which is home to some of the most contested elections this year.

He plans to hold 10 rallies to urge evangelicals to vote, the Times reported. His tour will end on June 5, the day of the primary.

“The church just has to be wakened,” he told the Times. “People say, what goes in California is the way the rest of the nation is going to go. So, if we want to see changes, it is going to have to be done here.”

Graham said that his tour is for Jesus and for supporting candidates that advance the social conservative causes — such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage — many evangelicals want.

“Progressive? That’s just another word for godless,” Graham told a group of supporters, according to the Times. 

He added that it was time for churches to “suck it up” and vote, according to the Times.

Read the entire piece here.

Billy Graham believed the church needed to be “wakened” to the good news of the Gospel and the re-dedication of individual lives to that Gospel.  Franklin Graham wants the church to be “wakened” to vote.  The political captivity of evangelicalism doesn’t get any clearer than this.