Where nonconformists go to write

Substack

A recent column by David Brooks discusses public intellectuals who cannot seem to find an ideological home. Many of them, including Andrew Sullivan (on the Right) and Matt Taibbi (on the Left) have found a place to write at SubStack.

Here is a taste:

After being pushed out from New York magazine, Sullivan established his own newsletter, The Weekly Dish, on Substack, a platform that makes it easy for readers to pay writers for their work. He now has 60,000 subscribers, instantly making his venture financially viable.

Other heterodox writers are already on Substack. Matt Taibbi and Judd Legum are iconoclastic left-wing writers with large subscriber bases. The Dispatch is a conservative publication featuring Jonah Goldberg, David French and Stephen F. Hayes, superb writers but too critical of Trump for the orthodox right. The Dispatch is reportedly making about $2 million a year on Substack.

The first good thing about Substack is there’s no canceling. A young, talented heterodox thinker doesn’t have to worry that less talented conformists in his or her organization will use ideology as an outlet for their resentments. The next good thing is there are no ads, just subscription revenue. Online writers don’t have to chase clicks by writing about whatever Trump tweeted 15 seconds ago. They can build deep relationships with the few rather than trying to affirm or titillate the many.

It’s possible that the debate now going on stupidly on Twitter can migrate to newsletters. It’s possible that writers will bundle, with established writers promoting promising ones. It’s possible that those of us at the great remaining mainstream outlets will be enmeshed in conversations that are more freewheeling and thoughtful.

Mostly I’m hopeful that the long history of intellectual exclusion and segregation will seem disgraceful. It will seem disgraceful if you’re at a university and only 1.5 percent of the faculty members are conservative. (I’m looking at you, Harvard). A person who ideologically self-segregates will seem pathetic. I’m hoping the definition of a pundit changes — not a foot soldier out for power, but a person who argues in order to come closer to understanding.

Read the entire piece here. I also recommend the video attached to the column. Brooks openly questions his own conservatism.

Andrew Sullivan is out at *New York Magazine*

Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan, one of the greatest bloggers to ever live, will no longer be writing his regular column at New York Magazine.

Here is CNN:

Columnist and blogger Andrew Sullivan is leaving New York magazine, his professional home since 2016, he announced Tuesday.

“This will be my last week at New York Magazine,” Sullivan tweeted. “I’m sad because the editors I worked with there are among the finest in the country, and I am immensely grateful to them for vastly improving my work. I’m also proud of the essays and columns I wrote at NYM – some of which will be published in a collection of my writing scheduled for next year.”

Sullivan did not directly state his reason for leaving but said on Twitter that it was “pretty self-evident” and the “broader questions involved” would be discussed in his last column on Friday.

Read the rest here.

Is the American mind closing?

College-classroom

James Ceaser, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia, makes some important points about intellectual inquiry in this piece at The National Review. 

I found this section useful:

Begin with higher education, the institution traditionally charged with presenting much of our youth with different perspectives and with asking them to explore alternative points of view. University mottoes often boast of just this kind of commitment, be it Lux et Veritas (“Light and Truth,” Yale), Emet (“Truth, Even unto Its Innermost Parts,” Brandeis), or Scientia et Virtus(“Knowledge and Virtue,” Middlebury College). Many universities and colleges have become renowned for suppressing such inquiry, reversing course on plans to award honorary degrees, as Brandeis did to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or allowing their students to prevent, through disruption, an invited speaker from giving his talk, as with Charles Murray at Middlebury. Such actions are taken today in compliance with decisions of university presidents or in acquiescence to student-activist demands. The institutions now insist on their new unlimited right to indoctrinate, not their old obligation to present uncomfortable ideas. The greater problem in universities is not, however, in the limits they place or allow on outside visitors, which can prove embarrassing for the media coverage they attract. The deeper challenge is found in the day-in, day-out operation of the institution itself, where the left-leaning positions of the faculty and administration are pervasive. Higher education has become a monoculture, serving as a plantation for progressive and leftist ideas. Conservative perspectives are rarely heard. Just a decade ago, when the imbalance of viewpoints was becoming more obvious, lip service was paid to making an effort to bring to campus a greater diversity of opinions. This concern has now gone by the wayside. The term “diversity” itself now carries a completely different meaning, no longer referring to different ways of thinking but to the gender orientations and ethnic and racial characteristics of the faculty. Applicants for many faculty positions are today required to present diversity statements, testifying to their views on this subject, as a condition for employment, while existing faculty in many institutions are asked to offer a report on their equity activities. 

Read the entire piece here.

I find myself in general agreement with this part of Caesar’s piece. I actually wrote something similar here. (If you want to see proof of what I am talking about, read the comments).

I have always enjoyed working at a Christian institution because of the academic freedom I enjoy. Do Christian colleges and universities limit academic freedom? Of course they do. I have to affirm the Apostles Creed to teach at Messiah University. But for those who teach from the perspective of faith, a Christian college can be an incredibly liberating place.

But when I read pieces like Caesar’s, I wonder where conservatives draw the line in their arguments for open inquiry and academic freedom. This is an honest question. I understand that there are different views on abortion and sexual ethics. Some faculty are Republicans or, dare I say, Trump supporters. I would argue, as I did in the Aeon piece above, that there should be plenty of room for diversity on these things. I wish there was more intellectual pluralism in universities. (I also wish there was more intellectual pluralism, within the Christian tradition of course, at Christian colleges and universities. But that is another matter for another post).

But what about a scholar who denies the existence of the Holocaust? Should a white supremacist be allowed to teach on a university campus? Someone who thinks COVID-19 is not real? What about a professor who denies systemic racism? How about a climate change denier or someone who teaches a Trumpian view of American history or thinks the earth is 3000-years-old or believes the past is best explained in a history course by invoking divine providence? Certainly free inquiry can’t be completely free, can it?

Since I do not teach at a secular university, I have not spent a lot of time thinking about how to draw such boundaries. Most of my battles on this front take place from within the Christian tradition. But whenever I hear conservatives complaining about a lack of free inquiry, I seldom hear anyone offering positive visions for what they want the university to look like or how to navigate some of the questions I raised above. If there are examples of this, and I have a hunch that there are and I am just not familiar with them, I would like to learn more.

By the way, the National Review is running what looks like an interesting series on American identity, but I can’t read it or engage it because of the paywall. Authors include David French, Joseph Epstein, Allen Guelzo, and Yuval Levin.

Wilfred McClay on Historical Monuments

Kosciukso

Whether you agree or disagree with him, Wilfred McClay is always thoughtful. If I see his byline at First Things or another conservative outlet, I will always read the article. As one of America’s best conservative historians (not a historian of conservatism, a historian who is politically and intellectually conservative), and a winner of the prestigious Merle Curti Award, he plays an important role in public discourse.

I always learn something from Bill, as I did last Fall when we spent a couple of hours chatting in the Chattanooga airport.  (We talked about a lot of things as we waited for our flights–mostly small talk– but I distinctly remember his suggestion that we should think of the word “evangelical” more as an adjective [as in “evangelical Christian”] than a noun. I am still thinking that one over). I remember when Bill visited Messiah College in 2003 to deliver our American Democracy Lecture and, as a member of the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities, gave us some tips about how to get funding for our Center for Public Humanities. (We eventually landed an NEH grant to create the Center). I have long considered him a mentor and he has always been supportive of my career.

I am a bit embarrassed that I had to preface this post in this way, but I felt it was necessary because I am guessing a lot of people who read this blog are going to be upset with his recent piece at First Things, a short reflection on what is happening right now with American monuments.  Some may also get upset about my thoughts at the end of the post.

A taste:

But I think the most disturbing aspect of this episode, which perhaps indicates how deep our societal rot goes, has less to do with the rioters than with those in positions of authority. Rioters and miscreants we will always have, but that is why we have authorities. Ours, however, seem to have utterly abdicated. In city after city, mayors and governors decline to act against vandals, the police stand down, and the devil is allowed to take the hindmost. Corporations fall over themselves to advertise their virtuousness, and give what looks very much like protection money to organizations whose goals are openly subversive of the fundamental American political and social order. University administrators are all too willing to side with those who suppress free inquiry, and routinely cave to protestors rather than defend even the most fundamental tenets of academic freedom. 

The pulling down of statues, as a form of symbolic murder, is congruent with the silencing of dissenting opinion, so prevalent a feature of campus life today. In my own academic field of history, it is entirely of a piece with the weaponizing of history, in which the past is regarded as nothing more than a malleable background for the concerns of the present, and not as an independent source of wisdom or insight or perspective.

Those caught up in the moral frenzy of the moment ought to think twice, and more than twice, about jettisoning figures of the past who do not measure up perfectly to the standards of the present—a present, moreover, for which those past figures cannot reasonably be held responsible. For one thing, as the Scriptures warn us, the measure you use is the measure you will receive. Those who expect moral perfection of others can expect no mercy for themselves, either from their posterity or from the rebukes of their own inflamed consciences. 

But there is a deeper reason. It is part of what it means to be a civilized human being—it is in fact an essential feature of civilization itself—to recognize the partiality of all human achievement, and to cherish it and sustain it no less for that partiality. 

Read the entire piece here.

There is a lot to agree with in McClay’s analysis. I think McClay’s thoughts on Jefferson and his monuments echo the ideas I am hearing from Annette Gordon-Reed, Manisha Sinha, and Sean Wilentz.

Let’s also remember that McClay is writing in a Christian magazine. If we take Christianity seriously, we must reckon with McClay’s suggestion (I am not sure how he can know this for sure) that those who tear down monuments are motivated by “pure and unmitigated hate.” It does seem that one can be morally correct about a particular social cause, and still respond to such a matter in a manner defined by “pure and unmitigated hate.” I struggle with this on a daily basis as I write about Donald Trump. I have had to do a lot of confessing of sins in the last four years and have tried to distinguish between a legitimate, Christian-based, critique of Trump and his court evangelicals and the kind of angry rhetoric that is not good for my spiritual life or the spiritual lives of others. I have found that prayer–for Donald Trump and his administration, for the evangelical church, and for the best way to strike an appropriate prophetic voice– is often an antidote to this kind of anger. But I’m not always good at it.

McClay’s remarks about the white privilege enjoyed by the middle-class, suburban, college-educated students engaged in some of the violence is also on the mark. There seems to be white privilege on both sides of our current conversation on race in America. I wish these young people would be more thoughtful.

Finally, McClay writes, “In my own academic field of history, it [the tearing down of monuments] is entirely of a piece with the weaponizing of history, in which the past is regarded as nothing more than a malleable background for the concerns of the present, and not as an independent source of wisdom or insight or perspective. Here I think McClay is half-right.

As I argued in Why Study History, we need to understand the past in all its fullness in order to make sense of the complexity of the human experience. I am largely talking here about the classroom, where I teach American history as if all voices matter. Please don’t get me wrong. Yes, Black lives matter. I am disgusted when I hear the political Right screaming “all lives matter” as a way of avoiding tough conversations on racial injustice, systemic racism, and the experience of African Americans. Responding to the phrase “black lives matter” with the phrase “all lives matter” represents a failure to address the pain and suffering of Black men and women in this particular moment. It is reprehensible. Anyone who reads this blog knows where I stand on this, so I ask you to think about my words here as part of my larger body of work.

But when I teach history, especially when I do broad sweeps in a survey class, I am charged with telling the story of the United States. In this sense, my students must be exposed to all American lives. They must encounter these lives in their context, and in all their complexity, even if it makes them (and I am talking about white students and students of color here) uncomfortable. We can’t erase the past. We must confront it.

Yet, I also believe that historians can and must use the past, and especially historical thinking, to speak to the present. I tried to do this in Believe Me. As I have said before, I have never understood Believe Me to be part of the same historical genre as The Way of Improvement Leads Home, The Bible Cause, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? (to an extent), or the book on the American Revolution that I am currently writing. But there are times when historians must speak to current events by teaching us how we got to a particular moment in the present. And once they understand their subjects thoroughly and empathically, there is a place for moral critique. This, of course, may require getting political. As I recently told a friend, I have spent much of my career trying to understand conservative evangelicals. My critique is rooted in over two decades of historical work.

And finally, let’s talk about “law and order.” As I argued in Believe Me, it is hard to understand this phrase without thinking about racial unrest in America. Nixon used it as a dog-whistle to win votes among white voters. Trump uses it in the same way. And let’s recall that the tearing down of monuments, riots in the streets, and destruction of property are as as old as the American republic.

McClay gives us a lot to think about here. When does government intervene to stop the destruction of property? How much is too much? Where do we draw the line between law and order on the one hand, and racial injustice on the other?

One of the best ways to do this, I have found, is to think historically. The years leading-up to the American Revolution were very violent. After the revolution, when the Whiskey rebels rose-up in Western Pennsylvania, George Washington sent out the army to crush the rebellion. Martin Luther King Jr. protested peacefully. Other American reformers, like John Brown, did not. There debates between law and order on the one hand, and American protest on the other, are not new. Go listen to the Hamilton soundtrack or watch it next week on Disney+.

And what should Christians think? Was the dumping of tea in Boston Harbor in December 1773 justified? Is destruction of someone else’s property ever right? What about pouring hot tar on peoples’ skin, covering them with feathers, and parading them through the streets? What about our moral responsibility as the church to speak truth to power and disobey unjust laws–codes that are out of harmony with the moral law for God?  Sometimes these questions do not have easy answers. But are we even asking them?

Peter Wehner on Jonathan Haidt

Righteous MindSome of you are familiar with Haidt‘s book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. He argues that ethical judgments “arise not from reason but from gut feelings.” Over at The Atlantic, Peter Wehner has an extended piece based on an interview with Haidt.

Here is a taste:

In 1992, Haidt received his Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, where he encountered several professors who had interesting things to say about morality that, he said, “set me up to think about a much broader moral domain.” But it was the years immediately following Haidt’s time at the University of Pennsylvania that were transformational. He spent two years at the University of Chicago working with Richard Shweder, an anthropologist, who was his postdoctoral research adviser. Shweder has a motto: If someone asserts it, try denying it and see if that makes sense. If someone denies it, try asserting it and see if that makes sense. “It’s a great way to overcome confirmation bias and to try on new ideas,” Haidt told me. “Richard Shweder in particular just blew my mind wide open.” The experience “really changed me and prepared me to step out of my prior politics, my prior moralism, my prior self-righteousness.”

While he was at Chicago, Haidt received a fellowship to study morality in India. In September 1993 he traveled to Bhubaneswar, in the Indian state of Odisha, where, among other things, he learned the power of rituals and of a commitment to religious purity as a way to knit communities together. While in India, Haidt “really tried to understand a culture very different from my own, and in the process, for the first time, I was able to look at evangelical and conservative Christianity not as a force hostile to me as an atheist, a cosmopolitan, and a Jew, but as a moral community striving for certain virtues—and I could understand those virtues and I could respect those virtues. It was that combination that really drained me of my anger and hostility and, I think, helped me to just listen to people and try to map out what [they are] aiming for. What are the virtues they’re trying to instill? What is the vision of the good that they are pursuing? Without that period, I don’t think I ever could have written The Righteous Mind or been of much use in studying a culture war.”

And this:

In preparation for teaching a graduate seminar in the spring of 2005 on political psychology, Haidt read an introductory essay by the historian Jerry Muller in a book Muller edited, Conservatism: An Anthology of Social and Political Thought From David Hume to the Present. All of a sudden, a whole new world opened up. Haidt discovered that conservatives had some important insights to offer on human nature, the value of institutions, and the importance of moral capital. He felt conservatism offered an important counterbalance to the excesses of progressivism. He also came to appreciate the pedigree of conservatism, from the writings of people like Edmund Burke in the 18th century to Thomas Sowell in the 20th. (Haidt told me he considers himself to be a centrist, engaging with views from multiple sides in order to understand issues. But he’s a centrist who only ever votes for Democrats, because he thinks the Republican Party has been in a state of moral and philosophical decline for many years.

Haidt laments the state of contemporary American politics, believing that on both the right and the left we’re seeing populism that responds to real problems but in illiberal ways. “On the right,” he said, “the populism there is really explicitly xenophobic and often explicitly racist … I think we see strands of populism on the right that are authoritarian, that I would say are incompatible with a tolerant, pluralistic, open democracy.”

Read the entire piece here.

The R.R. Reno “Meltdown”

Reno

First Things editor R.R. Reno

We have written before about R.R. Reno and the First Things magazine response to the coronavirus. On March 20, 2020, we noted Reno’s call to open churches (with a Wendell Berry-inspired response from Eric Miller). Three days later, we called attention to Reno’s claim that “there are many things more precious than life.” On April 8, 2020, we linked to a piece describing Reno and his staff as “the bitter and angry remnant” at First Things magazine. On April 29, 2020, Reno said that the government’s measures to protect Americans from the coronavirus “have been pointless.”

In the last twenty-four hours, Reno seems to have doubled-down on all of these claims via Twitter:

Conservative writer Rod Dreher called it a meltdown. “It doesn’t make me angry,” he wrote today at The American Conservative, “it makes me sad to see this happening.”

*First Things* Editor: The “measures we have taken in the last few weeks have been…pointless”

First Things 2019R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things, has used his magazine, which he claims is “America’s most influential journal of religion and public life,” to call for the opening of churches and the economy.  He seems to have it all figured out. As he writes in his most recent piece “Coronavirus Reality Check,” COVID-19 is not a threat to society. He seems to suggest that public health officials and the media are lying to us. Here is a taste:

On March 16, Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London predicted a coronavirus death toll of more than two million in the United States alone. He arrived at this number by assuming that infection would be nearly universal and the fatality rate would be high—a terrifying prospect. The next day, Stanford epidemiologist John Ioannidis sifted through the data and predicted less widespread infection and a fatality rate of between 0.05 and 1.0 percent—not that different from the common flu. The coronavirus is not the common flu. It has different characteristics, afflicting the old more than the young, men more than women. Nevertheless, all data trends since mid-March show that Ferguson was fantastically wrong and Ioannidis was largely right about its mortal threat.

But Ferguson’s narrative has triumphed, helped by our incontinent and irresponsible media. A young doctor in Wuhan died—COVID-19 must be dangerous and deadly for everybody. Hospitals in Italy are overwhelmed—we are witnessing a pandemic of epic proportions. China succeeded with draconian methods of mass quarantine—these must be our only hope of protection against the coming disaster.

By the end of March, most of the United States had been locked down. Tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs. More than $6 trillion has been spent to save society from complete collapse. Relentless warnings have whipped the populace into frenzies of fear. All of this to contain a disease that, as far as we can tell at this point, is not significantly more fatal than the flu. Moreover, given how rapidly the coronavirus spreads, it seems likely that the radical and untested method of lockdown does little to control it.

In other words, the science increasingly shows that the measures we have taken in the last few weeks have been both harmful—with freedoms lost, money spent, livelihoods destroyed—and pointless.

Read the entire piece here.

I don’t know Reno’s career trajectory well enough to say that he is an authority on ethics and public health, but many of the scientists are saying that COVID-19 will come back with greater force in the Fall. I hope and pray this does not happen. But if it does, Reno is going to have some explaining to do.

Why We Should Not be Surprised by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s Decision to Open His State’s Economy

Some of you may remember Georgia Governor Brian Kemp. Earlier this month, he issued a stay-at-home order after learning for the first time that coronavirus could be spread by people who are not exhibiting symptoms. Kemp said he did not know the virus could spread this way until 24-hours before he issued the order. It was a strange and ignorant thing to say, since the Center for Disease Control had announced two months earlier that the virus could spread by people who are asymptomatic.  Read more here.

Now Kemp has decided to re-open his economy.  On Friday, gyms, barber shops, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, restaurants, and movie theaters will be open in Georgia.  Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she was blindsided by this decision.

This Kemp campaign ad I posted above might explain a few things about him

 

What is the Current State of Conservative Intellectual Life?

Vermeule

Adrian Vermeule

Over at The New Statesman, Nick Burns offers a very helpful overview. Here is a taste of his piece “The New Intellectuals of the American Right”:

What is happening on the American intellectual scene? In Washington and New York, it is increasingly common to hear people say they are enemies of neoliberalism. They think liberal democracy is insufficient. They are in favour of government intervention in the economy, sceptical of free-trade deals and long to demolish what they call “zombie Reaganism”. 

These people are not Bernie Sanders supporters. In fact, they are not on the left at all. They are Catholic professors, or writers for US conservative magazines. They run tech companies in California or work for Republican senators on Capitol Hill. Meet the new American right. 

If you would like to find yourself a place in the vanguard of American conservatism these days, you can choose from a widening panoply of neologisms to describe yourself: national conservative, integralist, traditionalist, post-liberal, you might even be welcome if you are a Marxist. Anything just so long as you’re not a libertarian. 

The once dominant intellectual lodestars of the US right – Friedrich Hayek, John Locke, Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand and Adam Smith – are out. The ideas of Carl Schmitt, James Burnham, Michel Houellebecq and Christopher Lasch are in. Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville are barely clinging on. What happened? 

One explanation for the American right’s leftward turn lies with Catholic opinion. Resentment was already building among US Catholic conservatives by the time of Donald Trump’s election in 2016. From around 2013, as Pope Francis appeared to be compromising on certain social issues, such as acceptance of homosexuality, Catholics began to suspect the grand bargain of the American conservative movement since the 1950s – free markets combined with social conservatism – was heavily tilted in favour of the former. They saw a Republican Party guided less by religion than by money: money which seemed little disposed to advocate on behalf of their beliefs. They saw themselves as foot-soldiers in a culture war their party seemed content to lose. Even worse: for the privilege of fighting, they had been obliged not to think too hard about what Catholic social teaching might have to say on issues such healthcare, for fear of offending the jealous god of the free market. 

Read the rest here.

The “bitter and angry remnant” at *First Things* Magazine

First Things 2019

I stopped subscribing to First Things magazine several years ago. I still check the website every now and then, but I am never surprised by what I find there. The magazine is no longer the intellectual feast that it was in the Father Neuhaus era.

Perhaps this is why Jason Vickers‘s recent piece at Providence, a conservative Christian magazine devoted to foreign affairs, resonated with me. Here is a taste:

I first encountered FT when I went to work for William J. “Billy” Abraham in the late 1990s. As the assistant to the Outler Chair in theology at Southern Methodist University, one of my daily jobs was to retrieve Billy’s mail. Once a month, I found myself reading the latest issue of FT on my way back from the mailroom. Often, I would read it cover to cover before handing it over. Here was a journal that modeled the intellectual virtues that Billy so frequently talked about: fairness in argument, careful consideration of evidence, avoiding logical fallacies, patience in exercising judgment, open-mindedness, humility, and empathy.

The content being published under the banner of FT today exhibits almost none of these qualities. Gone are the ecumenical tone and irenic spirit. Gone, too, is the commitment to intellectual virtue. In place of the things for which Father Neuhaus and FTwere once standard bearers, one now finds essays clearly calculated to polarize and offend (if they are not so calculated, then their authors are unrivaled in their lack of self-awareness). FT now exhibits open hostility toward other Christians and the wider population. It is no longer winsome and inviting. It is no longer evangelical. Rather, the mindset of many of its authors, most notably its senior editor, R.R. Reno, strikes me as that of an angry and bitter remnant. They write as though they are the last Christians in America.

Consider the views that Reno and others have expressed in the pages of FTover the last couple of weeks. In a series of essays that are intellectually vicious in their criticism of the response to the global pandemic (especially the response of Christians), the authors divide the world into two groups of people. On the one hand are those who worship God, care deeply about virtue, and know that death doesn’t have the final say. Such people are the true Christians, and they are a picture of calm during the present so-called “crisis.” Because of the steadfastness of their convictions, they don’t lose their wits. They are faithful. They don’t overreact. (It is surely no accident that Reno’s daily “Coronavirus Diary” amounts to a self-portrait in knowing calmness—he walks his dog, stops by an empty cathedral to pray, goes to his office, and returns home.)

On the other hand, the rest of us are hunkered down in our homes, terrified of death and dying because we are materialists who no longer believe in God or in life after death. We would do anything to prolong mere “physical life,” because that is all we have left. We are materialists, atheists, idolaters, or worst of all, dishonest Christians (“Christian leaders,” says Reno, “secretly accept the materialist assumptions of our age”). We are even told that we don’t “petition God” anymore, choosing instead to place all our hope in science and technology. Nor do we care whether the scientists to whom we turn for hope are themselves virtuous people. We’re too lathered up in a panic to be worried about such high and lofty things. The same goes for our blind and irrational trust in the government. Unlike true Christians, we are so afraid of death and dying that we can’t even bring ourselves to speak death’s name. We prefer to speak of “saving lives” rather than “delaying death.”

The intellectual viciousness of these and other essays is truly stunning.

Read the entire piece here.

Christian Dominionism at CPAC

Charlie Kirk is the twenty-six-year-old founder of a Turning Point USA, a pro-Trump non-profit organization active on college campuses.  He is also the co-founder of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center.  (You can read our posts on the Falkirk Center here).

Here is Kirk at the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC):

Comments:

  • Kirk tells people to stop giving money to their universities because they are Marxist. The only universities that deserve our money are Liberty University and Hillsdale College.  Such a suggestion is immoral.  I have a friend who is getting cancer treatment right now at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center.  They need all the money they can get to help continue their research.  I am sure we can think of hundreds of other ways that research universities are at working solving the problems of our world today.
  • Kirk says that colleges are producing Marxists activists who will one day destroy America. Has he really been on university campuses?  Where are these activists?  Most college students in the United States are sharing photos on Instagram, watching Netflix, working two part-time jobs, and trying to keep up with their studies.
  • Kirk says that we should fear communists on school boards.  Really?  He should come visit central Pennsylvania.  Please contact me if you know of any communists elected to local school boards.
  • It is clear from Kirk’s speech that the Right sees Bernie Sanders as a real threat.  When the Christian Right starts fear-mongering it is a clear sign they are worried.  Bernie Sanders is not a communist or a Marxist.  He is not even a real socialist. When I interviewed a real socialist on my podcast a few weeks ago he told me that no true Marxist would support Sanders because he is not far enough to the left.
  • Kirk has a meltdown when the crowd boos Mitt Romney.  He encourages the boos and then goes-off on a rant about how Romney lied to the people of Utah by claiming to be a conservative during his Senate race.  In Kirk’s estimation, no one can be a true conservative and cast a vote to remove Donald Trump from office.  But think about this.  Romney’s vote to remove Trump was an example of faith-informed politics. It was made possible by the fact that the Utah Senator has the religious liberty to follow his conscience.  Last time I checked, pro-Trumpers are fighting for a faith-informed politics and religious liberty.  This is further proof that they only care about a faith-informed politics and religious liberty that benefits Trump.
  • Kirk says Obama, the president who ran in 2008 and 2012 to the right of all the Democratic candidates in this year’s race, is a Marxist.  This is not true.  It is more fear-mongering.
  • Finally, Kirk brings up the “7 Mountains of Cultural Influence” and claims that Trump understands them.  First, I am guessing that Trump has never heard of the “7 Mountains of Cultural Influence.”  Second, “7 Mountains” is a phrase used by Christian Dominionists who want to make America a Christian nation by taking control of family life, religious life, education, the media, the entertainment industry, business, and government.  For many Dominionists, the Second Coming of Christ will return when Christians gain power over these areas.  We spent a lot of time writing about this kind of Dominionism during the 2016 election and even won a journalism award for a piece on the subject at Christianity Today.   Read our posts here. Right Wing Watch has a good story on this here.

Conservative African American Intellectuals Respond to *The New York Times* 1619 Project

Woodson

Bob Woodson

The World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) is calling attention to Episode 63 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  This is our interview with Kings College (PA) history professor Thomas Mackaman, a critic of The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project.  Mackaman is the historian who interviewed several prominent American historians–Gordon Wood, James McPherson, Victoria Bynum, James Oakes, Richard Cawardine, Clayborne Carson–who criticized the history behind the project.

Last week another source of criticism emerged.  The Woodson Center, a conservative nonprofit that “helps community and faith-based organizations solve issues facing their communities,” has announced the “1776 Project.”  Here is a description:

“1776″ is an assembly of independent voices who uphold our country’s authentic founding virtues and values and challenge those who assert America is forever defined by its past failures, such as slavery. We seek to offer alternative perspectives that celebrate the progress America has made on delivering its promise of equality and opportunity, and highlight the resilience of its people. Our focus is on solving problems. We do this in the spirit of 1776, the date of America’s true founding.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Woodson Center founder and president Bob Woodson said, “Most of the contributors of the 1619 Project purport to speak for all of black America with a false and harmful narrative, one that perpetuates victimhood and ignores successes…Through 1776, we choose to highlight America’s promise and to elevate the inspiring stories of blacks who rose and achieved and thrived–in spite of prejudice.”

Woodson has gathered a group of “top black academics, columnists, social service providers, business leaders, and clergy from across America who are committed to telling the complete history of America and black Americans from 1776 to present with a look to the future in answer to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous question, ‘Where do we go from here.'” The list includes Clarence Page, Shelby Steele, and John McWhorter.  It is worth noting that there are no historians on the list.  This should raise some red flags.

Watch the press conference here.  Check out the 1776 website here.

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

Trump evangelical

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

PAgeant

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”

1619

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”

Virginia sign

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.