What should we make of Trump’s 1776 Commission Report? Part 3

Read previous installments in this series here.

It is now difficult to find the 1776 Commission Report, but I managed to locate a copy in the Internet Archive.

The authors begin with the Articles of Confederation. The report teaches a “critical period” approach to the 1780s, arguing that “American statesmen and citizens alike concluded that the Articles were too weak to fulfill a government’s core functions.” What this view of the Constitution of the United States fails to mention is that the 1787 document was barely ratified in some states because so many “statesmen and citizens”–Patrick Henry, Luther Martin, Samuel Adams, George Mason, Richard Henry Lee, James Monroe, Mercy Otis Warren, and George Clinton, to name a few–were relatively happy under the Articles of Confederation and worried that the Constitution took too much power away from the states. American historians talk about these debates and differences with their students when they teach the 1780s. They provide students with primary sources to evaluate both sides of an issue so that they can detect bias and understand ideas in larger contexts. They ask questions like: “Whose critical period?”

In fact, I think the entire 1776 Commission might be a valuable resource in the history classroom. I would use it alongside the 1619 Project or Howard Zinn’s People’s History to help students see how the past can be marshalled toward political ends.

Good history teachers understand the complexity of the past. For example, the 1776 Commission Report insists that there is a direct link between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It fails to mention that many ordinary men and women believed that the Constitution curbed their liberties and squashed some of the democratic practices of the states during the 1780s. Many believed that Madison’s “large republics” would weaken their political voice. The Electoral College filtered the voice of the people. As we saw in 2016, it is possible for a presidential candidate to win the votes of the people and still lose a presidential election. There were people in the eighteenth century who worried about this possibility.

So what were the links between the Declaration of Independence and Constitution? This question would make for a wonderful pedagogical exercise. Instead, this document offers only one side. In the end, it does the exact same thing the conservative authors of the document accuse those on the left of doing.

Finally, the 1776 Commission’s section on the Constitution says nothing about the debates over slavery at the Constitutional Convention. It says nothing about the three-fifths compromise. The paragraphs on the Bill of Rights focuses almost entirely on religious liberty and the right to bear arms.

Today Inside Higher Ed has a piece on the 1776 Commission and its connection to conservative Hillsdale College.

I also learned today that South Dakota pro-Trump governor Kristi Noem is asking for nearly $1 million to revamp the teaching of social studies in her state so that students learn “why the U.S. is the most special nation in the history of the world.” We will have to see if the 1776 Commission Report will play a role in Noem’s plans. Whatever happens, the history wars will continue.

A new conservative political party?

Tom Friedman hopes it will happen. Here is a taste of his column at today’s New York Times:

As the Trump presidency heads into the sunset, kicking and screaming, one of the most important questions that will shape American politics at the local, state and national levels is this: Can Donald Trump maintain his iron grip over the Republican Party when he is out of office?

This is what we know for sure: He damn well intends to try and is amassing a pile of cash to do so. And here is what I predict: If Trump keeps delegitimizing Joe Biden’s presidency and demanding loyalty for his extreme behavior, the G.O.P. could fully fracture — splitting between principled Republicans and unprincipled Republicans. Trump then might have done America the greatest favor possible: stimulating the birth of a new principled conservative party.

Santa, if you’re listening, that’s what I want for Christmas!

Wishful thinking? Maybe. But here’s why it’s not entirely fanciful: If Trump refuses to ever acknowledge Biden’s victory and keeps roasting those Republicans who do — and who “collaborate” with the new administration — something is going to crack.

There will be increasing pressure on the principled Republicans — people like Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski and the judges, election officials and state legislators who put country before party and refused to buckle under Trump’s demands — to break away and start their own conservative party.

Read the rest here.

The Trump “intellectuals” defend voter fraud

Linda Chavez reminds us that a few conservative thinkers are supporting Trump’s claims of election fraud. They include William Bennett (of Book of Virtues fame), Roger Kimball (editor of The New Criterion), and law school professor John Eastman. Here is a taste of her piece at The Bulwark:

The intellectual dishonesty here is breathtaking. For individuals and organizations that champion the rule of law and claim the mantle of the founding principles of our nation to call for overturning an election reeks of hypocrisy. It was one thing for them to advocate for so flawed a man as Trump to lead our nation. But the American people have spoken and to continue to claim that the election was stolen, that votes were fraudulently counted, is to attack the very foundations of our democratic institutions. They sow distrust in democracy itself—formerly the provenance of the far left. Politicians may fear the wrath of Trump’s legion of followers if they speak out, but what is it that drives the “thinkers” like Bennett and Eastman? They should know better than to parrot insane conspiracy theories and promote specious legal arguments.

On January 20, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. But we should never forget the role of those who tried to subvert the peaceful transfer of power. They deserve ignominy, not because they opposed Biden’s election, but because they tried to undermine democracy.

Read the entire piece here.

Emotional Rush Limbaugh caller says he will die for Trump

When this caller says “I will die for my president” I don’t think he meant it generically. Limbaugh listens quietly to this man, but I wonder if Rush knows that he is partly responsible for the creation of this caller and millions like him.

Listen:

This is all very sad and tragic. Limbaugh is living through the final days of his life. He is going to spend it doing this:

Historian Wilfred McClay will join the faculty of Hillsdale College

One of nation’s leading conservative thinkers will join one of America’s most conservative schools. (See our previous McClay posts here).

Here is the Hillsdale Collegian:

Hillsdale College’s history department will gain a prestigious new faculty member next fall: Wilfred M. McClay.

Currently the G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma, McClay will make the move to Hillsdale following the end of the spring 2021 semester.

“My experience with Hillsdale is of an extraordinary community, built upon a shared love of the highest and noblest things,” McClay said in an email. “That too is vanishingly rare, and I count myself blessed to have the opportunity to share the life of that community, and I hope to contribute something good and lasting to it.”

According to McClay, the discussion of joining Hillsdale’s faculty began over the summer of 2019 when he came to campus for a week to film lectures for his online course on American History. After some persuasion and paperwork, McClay is now set to begin teaching the American Heritage courses this fall, but may expand beyond that in following semesters.

Read the rest here.

Why isn’t Amy Coney Barrett a model for conservative evangelical women?

Katelyn Beaty writes at The New York Times: “But to set the record straight, on handmaid and beyond, conservative Christians must do their part to imagine a broader and more humanizing vision for women’s place in the public square.”

Here is more:

So it’s worth asking: If Judge Barrett’s Catholic faith and indisputable career accomplishments make her such a young heroine of the Christian right, why doesn’t the traditional Christianity to which she adheres encourage more women to be like her?

To be clear, few in even secular communities can be like Judge Barrett. Most Americans do not enjoy the privileges of class and elite education that she has had as a federal judge and legal scholar. A flexible workplace and supportive spouse — things many men take for granted — remain elusive for many women.

But there’s another reason few Christian women can simultaneously pursue career ambitions and family life in the ways Judge Barrett has: In traditional Christian communities, women are often asked to sacrifice the former at the altar of the latter.

Read the entire piece here.

Peter Hitchens vs. *First Things* on COVID-19 and free speech

Peter Hitchens is a conservative journalist and author who writes a blog at DailyMail.com. Last week he published a post titled, “Please Protest against the Censorship of First Things magazine.”

Here is a taste:

For some years I have written occasionally for a thoughtful American magazine called First Things. Last week, they asked me to censor what I had written. They said: ‘We are trying to be slightly less critical of the lockdown measures on the site these days (though criticism is of course warranted), so we’ve made a few changes to the final paragraphs.

‘The First Things board has concerns about some of the pieces we have published on Covid. They have asked us to be less dismissive of Covid-19.’

They then asked me to ‘revise’ what I had written (which I have now published unrevised on the Peter Hitchens blog). I said no, and have ceased to write for them. It is a sign of the deep damage this panic is doing to Western freedom that the censor’s stupid, heavy hand should reach even into such gentle places.

Here is a taste of the piece that did not make into First Things:

The events of the past few months, in which men have tried to hold back the spread of a sub-microscopic virus with plastic screens, five-foot gaps, loose cloth muzzles, mass curfews and the closure of the world’s economies, have reminded me of the walls built to hide the Trill Mill Stream, and of my smug laughter at the story when I first heard it. Can such measures really be the answer, even if they are proportionate to the problem? We seem to be back in the era of making moonbeams out of cucumbers. Worse, most of us seem never to have heard or understood the fable of King Canute, who ordered the tide to turn back, to show his flattering courtiers that the power of governments, especially over nature, has very severe limits.

Energetic testing seems to show that the virus has slipped past these modern defences with ease, though in most cases without troubling its carriers all that much. But what it has also shown is that the more you test , the more you find and that in most cases, the virus is not that dangerous to those who catch it. Yet this discovery has absolutely no effect on government policies or on media accounts of the problem, which continue as if this was an exact repeat of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.

Many, in fact never even have any symptoms. Yet up go the plastic screens and on go the muzzles (a beloved library known to me, supposedly a quiet refuge for thought and research, has followed this trend, so making it almost unbearable to go there any more). Does the clue to our current state of wilful folly lie in Donne’s warning that learning without an understanding of the true nature of the universe is hubristic and will never get us very far, that ‘all knowledge that begins not, and ends not with His glory, is but a giddy, but a vertiginous circle, but an elaborate and exquisite ignorance’?  

So what is going on here? First Things, especially its editor, R.R. Reno, has taken a lot of heat for questioning the COVID-19 lockdown. We blogged about Reno’s coronavirus columns here and here and here.

The names of the members of the First Things board can be found here.

The First Things e-mail to Hitchens suggests that there may be some tension between the board and the editorial staff. Meanwhile, Hitchens is upset because his piece downplaying COVID-19 will not get an airing at this conservative magazine.

I should also add that I learned about Hitchens’s blog post when court evangelical Eric Metaxas shared it on his Facebook page. Metaxas, who has been doing his radio show from a bunker in his house, also seems to think that COVID-19 is not a serious threat.

By the way, Hitchens and Metaxas did not seem to be entirely on the same page a few months ago when they were discussing topics such as COVID-19 and “taking a knee.” This is unusual for a Metaxas interview. He mostly interviews people who agree with him.

Wehner: “Any true conservative should be appalled by the prospect” of a second Trump term

Trump flag

Here is conservative (but not Republican) Peter Wehner at The New York Times:

Conservatives and Republicans therefore have to ask themselves: Are we willing to entrust our cause and our country to him for another term? Do we really want Mr. Trump’s venomous approach to politics and life to be even more deeply imprinted on the Republican Party? Isn’t it already poisoned enough for many young, nonwhite and suburban voters?

The detoxification of the Republican Party and the conservative cause therefore begins with the de-Trumpification of the Republican Party and the conservative cause. It is in the best interest of the country and conservatism to rid itself of the Trump presidency. Only then can the healing and rebuilding begin.

When it comes to his policy agenda, Joe Biden is no conservative. I wish he were. But despite efforts by Trump supporters to pretend otherwise, Joe Biden is not Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Moreover, conservatism places a premium on prudence, human dignity, respect for the law and institutions, commitment to truth and reality, and a reasonable and reasoning governing temperament. In all of these respects, and others, Mr. Biden is more truly conservative than Mr. Trump.

Read the entire piece here.

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.