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Has the American Presidency, particularly recently, become hegemonic?

9 Jun

I’m not usually alarmist, but here’s Dr. David Corbin’s take:

In a week of news coverage dominated by the Bergdahl affair, President Obama submitted, “I’m never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington,” before forwarding his administration’s latest rationale as to why he agreed to swap an American serviceman for five Taliban terrorists: “I write too many letters to folks who, unfortunately, don’t see their children again after fighting a war.”

Earlier in the same press conference, he posited that it is a “basic principle” that the United States does not leave any soldier behind on the battlefield. A day prior, the Obama Administration defended the secrecy of the deal on the basis that telling Congress as required by Section 1035(d) of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act would have put Sgt. Bergdahl’s life at risk. And the day before that, the Administration suggested that it was motivated by Bergdahl’s health.

The Administration’s daily affirmations, explanations, and refutations followed last weekend’s Rose Garden announcement celebrating the Bergdahl swap and a Sunday talk show circuit victory tour aptly described by both the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes and the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel as amateur hour once again at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Why send Administration officials on national television advancing the case that Bergdahl had served honorably and that the move did not undermine American national security, if you knew otherwise? And why argue thereafter that the Administration was fully within its legal prerogative in a blatant misreading of the Defense Authorization Act? Memo to the White House: Many of the controversies that are whipped up in Washington D.C. are self-inflicted.

We certainly understand the President hating to write letters to parents of lost servicemen. The 70th anniversary of D-Day last Friday was a poignant reminder of the sacrifices that servicemen and servicewomen and their families make to secure American liberty. The military’s commitment not to leave soldiers behind is also, obviously, commendable. But neither of these principles justifies actions that undermine the core constitutional responsibilities of the President. Let President Obama show that his trade made American liberty more secure before he calls this a Washington tempest in a teapot or seconds Harry Reid’s judgment that critics “are making a big deal over nothing.”

In reality, when one peels away the outer layers of this week’s news onion, it becomes clear that “the controversy whipped up by others” emerged from the President’s desire to make good on his 2008 campaign promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Why hasn’t he simply closed down the camp? Too politically risky. Why not suggest that as Commander-in-Chief, he has the constitutional authority to act unilaterally on the matter? Because his Administration had already penned a memocontending that the executive did not possess sole authority on such matters. Thus he was left this week trying to square several circles he had drawn in his attempt to distance himself from President Bush’s foreign policy.

At the core of the onion, however, is not anything the president or his advisors said on the campaign trail or on their way into office, but rather the Constitution itself and its distribution of powers among the three branches of the federal government. Senator and candidate Obama was a consistent critic of what he took to be executive overreach on the part of the Bush Administration in its response to the September 11th attacks of 2001. President Obama, however, has acted upon much the same principles as his predecessor, while adding new dimensions of domestic policy executive overreach. The result: an increasingly hegemonic presidency that employs the Constitution as campaign fodder during election season but sees it as a nuisance otherwise.

Statesmanship bridled by the Constitution looks very different.

It is impossible to overstate the significance of the separation of powers in the political thought of the American founders, despite the fact that the connection between it and the cardinal principle of republicanism–the rule of law–was of relatively recent discovery. John Locke’s definitive Second Treatise of Government, for example, published one hundred years before the Constitution was written, identifies three basic political powers, but places no special emphasis on maintaining their independence. As James Madison notes in Federalist 47, it was only with the publication of Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws, sixty years later, that the doctrine of the separation of powers was brought decisively “to the attention of mankind.”

Its conquest, if recent at the time of the founding, was nevertheless complete: “No political truth is certainly of greater intrinsic value, or is stamped with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty,” claimed Madison in the same essay. As a result, he readily conceded that if the Constitution did not provide adequately for the separation of powers “no further arguments would be necessary to inspire a universal reprobation of the system.”

Why such a strong affirmation? According to Madison:

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

For Madison, tyranny can be identified in the form of a regime, before any tyrant has appeared or any oppressive actions have been taken: absolute power can be “accumulated” in the framing of a government. On the other hand, it may also arise, de facto, even where the formal constitution provides against it, by the progressive “accumulation” of power by one branch or another. While Madison did not expect the powers exercised by the three branches of government to be completely ‘separate and distinct,’ he warns, “where the WHOLE power of one department is exercised by the same hands which possess the WHOLE power of another department, the fundamental principles of a free constitution are subverted.”

As we’ll see further in subsequent essays, Madison, like most of the founders, believed that a hegemonic Congress was the greatest (at least near-term) threat to the American republic. But here too one hundred years of Progressivism has taken its toll, making the Congress, today, the “least dangerous branch” in the system.

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On the absence of conservatives in higher education

9 Jun

From Steven HAyward in the New Criterion:

The social scientist Neil Gross made a splash last year with his book Why Are Professors Liberal, and Why Do Conservatives Care?, which, among other things, attempted to refute the claim that conservatives face ideological discrimination in academic hiring. There is some quantitative evidence (with more on the way soon) of ideological discrimination, which Gross grudgingly acknowledges, but he then goes to great lengths to argue that it is vastly overestimated.

He may be partly right, but not for the reasons his data-rich analysis lays out. Furthermore, Gross does not begin to reach the more important dimensions of the ideological shape of today’s humanities and social science departments that come into play before you even reach the fever swamps of race, class, and gender.

Liberals have pushed back against the charge of ideological discrimination in hiring with an entirely valid point: You guys don’t show up! There simply aren’t many conservative graduate students in the humanities and social sciences. If the top 200 universities set out to hire a conservative for each of their humanities departments, they’d run out after about 75; in some departments, they might run out of qualified conservative job candidates after about two. And if you can’t find newly minted Ph.D.’s for tenure track jobs, you have to poach the thin ranks of conservatives already in academia somewhere, leading to no net increase in conservative presence in universities. But while liberals can’t be blamed wholly for this, they can be blamed for acquiescing in, when not actively causing, the degradation of the humanities and social sciences in ways make academic track jobs repellent to many intellectual conservatives. Understanding what has taken place requires a three-part analysis.

First, it is necessary to take brief note of what so many are calling the “higher education bubble,” that is, the shockingly high cost of colleges and universities today. It is necessary to connect this trend with the precipitous decline in enrollment in humanities and social sciences—a 50 percent decline over the last generation. It is presumed that this decline is a direct result of education’s high cost and increasing job consciousness among students, but the decline in humanities and social science enrollment preceded the worst of higher education cost inflation. In other words, the soaring cost of college may have only aggravated a more important underlying cause.

Second, it is useful to pose a series of questions about what might be learned from the particular places where you do find conservatives in higher education—questions that are susceptible of a range of possible answers, and therefore perhaps more controversial.

Third, there is no escaping or papering over the substantive differences between the way left and right think about education itself. These differences explain a lot of things that have escaped notice, but taking these differences into account might ironically make liberalism more robust on campus.

Everyone knows what has happened to the cost of higher education: a 500 percent increase in college tuition in the last twenty-five years, while the Consumer Price Index rose just 115 percent. By contrast, health care costs have risen just 300 percent. The figure the White House put out to accompany President Obama’s speech last summer on this subject noted that, since 1983, tuition and fees at four-year public colleges have risen by 257 percent, while typical family incomes have advanced 16 percent. What is less well known is the adverse result: Today, only about 7 percent of recent college graduates come from the bottom-income quartile, compared with 12 percent in 1970, when federal aid was scarce. From a liberal egalitarian point of view, we’re going in the wrong direction.

The decline in humanities and social science enrollment began long before the current economic downturn made students more hyperconscious of the marketability of their degree. And if the enrollment in humanities courses continues to slide, can a reduction in humanities faculty positions be far behind? I think we are not far from starting to see “double-retirements,” that is tenure-line faculty positions in the humanities discontinued when a senior professor retires. Already we’re witnessing signs of a rapidly shrinking hiring market in the humanities and some social sciences. Political science hiring is down sharply in recent years according to numbers out of the American Political Science Association.

It could be even worse. In Vietnam, still run by the Communist Party, the very selective national university is offering free tuition to anyone who signs up for the university’s curriculum in Marxism. They’ve had to offer free tuition because no students have been signing up for these courses. I can’t help but be amused that the market-clearing price for courses in radical philosophy is lower in a Communist university than in American higher education.

All of this happens in the context of the peculiar world of academic employment in which the road to a professorship has always been steep. Now it’s no longer just a steep hill—more like a rock climb without ropes. Max Weber said over a hundred years ago that “Academic life is an utter gamble.” The odds are getting steadily worse, and if you’re a rational person calculating the odds, you may shy away from a Ph.D. track, or consider non-academic paths as more attractive than academic paths. This probably describes conservatives more than liberals.

It is here that some of the data that Neil Gross, Harvard’s Louis Menand, and others have unearthed and reanalyzed is interesting and helpful, and provides the transition to my short set of queries. Drawing on student survey data from UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, Matthew and April Woessner found that self-identified conservative students report higher levels of satisfaction with their university educational experience than self-identified moderate or liberal students, though not surprisingly conservative students report lower levels of satisfaction than liberal students with the humanities and social sciences. (Incidentally, the data found that liberal and conservative students tend to get higher grades than moderates or students who report no political outlook.)

On the surface you’d think that the pool of conservative students who express satisfaction with higher education would lead more of them toward graduate paths, except for their evident alienation from the liberal dominance of the humanities and social sciences, perhaps along with a perceived higher salience for conservatives on pursuing “practical” professional vocations. While these factors can’t be dismissed, Neil Gross points to compelling data about how the most important determinants of whether students go into graduate study are not large ideological factors, but mundane things like whether students have close relationships with professors or find academic mentors to encourage them along graduate paths. And lacking mentors and direct encouragement means that liberal predominance in graduate education, and hence the ranks of left-leaning professors becomes self-reinforcing, even if there is zero political bias in hiring decisions.

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How the French debate on SSM thwarts the stereotypes of American progressives

6 Jun

From Dr. Robert Lopez:

If the recent French mobilizations against same-sex marriage have taught us anything, it’s this: The LGBT lobby has misrepresented its cause’s relationship to time and history. Illinois Democrat Greg Harris stated in a National Public Radio piece what the lobby has been claiming for years:

Folks know this will be a vote that history will remember . . . And I think a lot of folks are deciding they’re going to want to be remembered on the right side of history.

The proponents of same-sex marriage like polls. A Gallup poll published in mid-May showed public support for their cause rising from 27 percent in 1996 to 53 percent this year. Pew’s survey data reflect a more modest rise, from 35 percent in 2001 to 49 percent in 2013, but the upward march is still clear. In April 2013, the Williams Institute published a state-by-state analysis that reflected a steady growth in the number of states, such as New York, in which more than 50 percent of respondents supported same-sex marriage.

Less often mentioned are certain caveats in all these polls. For instance, in Gallup’s poll respondents were asked to choose between supporting or opposing same-sex marriage, without being offered a third option such as civil unions. The data from the Williams Institute show that liberal California is still only at 50 percent for same-sex marriage, perhaps because the state has domestic partnerships already. Minnesota residents only supported same-sex marriage by 43 percent, despite their popular vote to reject a constitutional ban in 2012 and despite the legislature’s hurried process of legalizing it in the state.

Nevertheless, two assumptions have determined the way pundits have interpreted these data.

One assumption is that the increase in support will be consistent over time rather than fickle. We can name this the Inevitability Assumption, a quasi-Marxian or at least Hegelian view that History is beckoning in one direction and there will be no turning back.

The second assumption is that more people accept same-sex marriage because they have more reliable information about what it entails. This is theEnlightenment Assumption, the notion that there is a transcendental benevolence in same-sex marriage, which can rely on the good and the true, if not the beautiful, to be vindicated by the diffusion of knowledge.

A recent piece in the Los Angeles Times offers a digestible version of the Enlightenment Assumption: “Knowing a gay person is a key factor in rising support of gay marriage.” The example of Ohio Senator Rob Portman is Exhibit A for this line of reasoning: All Portman had to do was put a face on the issue, in the form of his gay son’s visage, to be persuaded to the cause.

If we combine the Inevitability Assumption and the Enlightenment Assumption, the resulting concoction is the message that predominates in American propaganda: Gay marriage is on the right side of history because history will take us in only one direction, based on the most fundamental of human goods: knowledge of the truth.

Assumptions and Fallacies

These assumptions are in fact fallacies. More than any other populace, the French have laid them bare with their four massive “manifs” or mobilizations (November 17January 13March 24, and May 26).

These four mobilizations are credited as the largest mass uprising in France since the famous revolts of May 1968. As many as 60 percent of French respondents supported same-sex marriage in the fall of 2012, but the level of support now hovers around only 39 percent, with 54 percent supporting “civil unions” only. It is no wonder that the French government has had to shield itself and its LGBT benefactors from outrage with an increasingly totalitarian modus operandi encompassing tear gas and other familiar police-state tactics.

The French resistance to same-sex marriage has demonstrated that an ostensibly progressive nation that had little issue with homosexuality as a moral question can change its mind, not based on ignorance of reality, but based on knowing more about what same-sex marriage really means. 

Sorry, LGBT lobby, the French are sending your soufflé back to the kitchen.

The French had little issue with the PACS, or domestic partnerships, passed in the 1990s. The nation is not a die-hard right-wing country, as we know from the fact that Socialists took over the government in 2012.

Yet millions of French citizens stormed the streets of Paris and dozens of other cities to block same-sex marriage. Despite attempts by the international press to paint the “Manif pour Tous” and the “French Spring” as a band of intolerant Catholic reactionaries, polls show that a comfortable majority of the French people share their view of the same-sex marriage law, even if some within that majority are not eager to join in the street protests.

The drop in support for same-sex marriage came with education and broader public debate. As the French knew more gay people individually and learned more about the ramifications of their legalized marriage on the community at large—especially children and poor communities overseas targeted foradoption and surrogacy—they liked the idea of same-sex marriage less and less.

The text of the law that passed bears the scars of a public backlash. For instance, both insemination rights for lesbian couples and gestational surrogacy rights for gay men had to be scrapped by President François Hollande’s government because of their horrendous unpopularity. (Both insemination and surrogacy are subject to broader bans in France than in the United States.)

Adoption was included in the final bill that went through the French parliament, over the strenuous objections of adoptees of all stripes, ranging from a fifteen-year-old writing in Boulevard Voltaire to Cyril Langelot toBenoît Talleu, an eloquent Franco-Vietnamese teen who addressed 700,000 French marchers on January 13.

Benoît’s adoptive father, Franck Talleu, was inexplicably arrested two and a half months after his son’s famous speech. Police detained him for wearing a sweatshirt with the children’s rights blazon on it. The arrest was widely viewed in France as proof that the Hollande regime had to employ invasive practices to cover up the unpopularity of its pro-LGBT proposals.

While same-sex adoption survived massive protests, its chances are going to be rather slim because of the long waiting list of heterosexual couples looking to adopt. Since France’s public controversy, now Russia has refused to authorize any more adoptions into the country and India has blocked surrogacy by same-sex couples. It will be more difficult for same-sex couples to mask their purchase of babies through surrogates abroad as international adoption.

The French attorney general Christiane Taubira tried to skirt the French ban on surrogacy with a memo allowing the government to treat overseas babies conceived by surrogate mothers as adoptees eligible for citizenship. Instead of quiet acquiescence to this sleight, she sparked mass protests against themerchandizing of women’s wombs. The shocking turn in the Washington Post,with an unprecedented column criticizing surrogacy by Kathleen Parker, might be evidence that the French street revolution set off a chain reaction that eventually brought even a super gay-friendly American publication like the Post to face the grim business behind same-sex parenting.

The French government’s attempts to scrub these controversial aspects of the same-sex marriage bill quietly didn’t work. As the public contemplated the problems with sperm banking and surrogacy, they grew increasingly suspicious of everything the LGBT lobby was promoting about its “families.” This happened despite all the assurances from Hollande’s ministers that the marriage bill would not lead to a boost in artificial reproductive technology.

Fallacy #1: The Inevitability Assumption

France proves that no opinion trend on any graph can be taken for granted as perpetual. In the United States we knew this already; we simply weren’t aware that we knew it. We know from the abortion debate that what seems like a steady march of acceptance can actually grind to a halt or reverse.

The Gallup polls on abortion show how unpredictable the trends in opinion can be, for the number of “pro-choice” Americans peaked in 1996 at 56 percent, then declined to 45 percent today, while pro-life opinion gained significant ground, albeit in fits and starts (only 33 percent of Americans were pro-life in 1996, compared to 48 percent today).

If we take a step back and examine how the international LGBT lobby has fought for same-sex marriage, we see that the lobby’s leaders must be equally aware that nothing is inevitable about acceptance of same-sex marriage, regardless of what they say publicly. Rather than patience, haste has characterized their tactics.

It would not be necessary to push the case for same-sex marriage so fervently in the Supreme Court if the electoral victories in Maine, Washington, and Maryland were truly confidence-inspiring signs of the movement’s inexorable march toward mass public approval. Nor would it have been necessary for the lobby to rush same-sex marriage through the Minnesota legislature when polls showed that fewer than 45 percent of the state’s voters really wanted to redefine marriage.

In France, the same sense of haste was also evident. Debate was noticeably cut short by the government. During the hearings leading up to the introduction of the bill in Parliament, only religious groups were invited to expressobjections. On February 15, 2013, when 700,000 petitions were presented to the nation’s Economic, Social and Environmental Committee (CESE) asking for full research into the impacts of the same-sex marriage bill, the French government committed a possibly unconstitutional act and deemed the petitions “unacceptable.”

The process of passing the law also quickened. The vote in the Senate was held ahead of schedule and only conducted with a show of hands, so that it was impossible to record which parliamentarians voted for the law and which voted against it.

Fallacy #2: The Enlightenment Assumption

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How Christianity lost its cultural influence; what that means for culture; how it can regain it – Dr. Greg Forster

1 Jun

Shared by Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds:

An Interview with Greg Forster: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It

May 29, 2014 | Justin Taylor

I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Greg Forster, an articulate and fascinating thinker, to talk about his new book, Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It, in the Cultural Renewal series, edited by Tim Keller and Collin Hansen. (You can read Keller’s foreword here.)

00:10 – How did Christianity lose its cultural influence?
00:49 – What are the two ways that Christianity has related to culture in history?
11:21 – Why did you title the book Joy for the World? Why is joy central to our witness?
14:54 – What can pastors do to help their people joyfully influence culture?

You can read a sample from the book or find out more information about it.

Conservatives must qualify Reagan: government is not the problem. Great essay from Roger Scruton

14 May

From First Things:

The Good of Government

American conservatives need a positive view of government.

In his first inaugural address, President Reagan announced that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” and his remark struck a chord in the hearts of his conservative supporters. American conservatives, called upon to define their position, reiterate the message that there is “too much government.” The seemingly unstoppable expansion of regulations; the increasing control over what happens in the workplace, in the public square, and even in the family; the constant manufacturing of new crimes and misdemeanors, aimed at controlling how we associate and with whom; the attempts to limit First and Second Amendment rights—these developments are viewed by many conservatives with alarm. They seem to be taking America in a new direction, away from the free association of self-governing individuals envisaged by the founders, toward a society of obedient dependents, who exchange their freedom and their responsibilities for a perpetual lien on the public purse. And you only have to look at Europe to see the result.

The European countries are governed by a political class that can escape from accountability behind the closed doors of the European institutions. Those institutions deliver an unending flow of laws and regulations covering all aspects of life, from the hours of work to the rights of sexual minorities. Everywhere in the European Union a regime of political correctness makes it difficult either to maintain, or to live by, precepts that violate the state-imposed orthodoxies. Non-discrimination laws force many religious people to go against the teachings of their faith in the matters of homosexuality, public preaching, and the display of religious symbols. Activists in the European Parliament seek to impose on all states of the Union, regardless of culture, faith, or sovereignty, an unqualified right to abortion, together with forms of “sex education” calculated to prepare young people as commodities in the sexual market, rather than as responsible adults seeking commitment and love.

A kind of hysteria of repudiation rages in European opinion-forming circles, picking one by one on the old and settled customs of a two-thousand-year-old civilization, and forbidding them or distorting them into some barely recognizable caricature. And all this goes with a gradual transfer of economic life from private enterprise to central government, so that in France and Italy more than half of citizens are net recipients of income from the state while small businesses struggle to comply with a regime of regulations that seems designed on purpose to suppress them.

Many of those developments are being replicated in America. The welfare state has expanded beyond the limits envisaged in the New Deal, and the Supreme Court is now increasingly used to impose the morality of a liberal elite on the American people, whether they like it or not. These developments add to the sense among conservatives that government is taking over. America, they fear, is rapidly surrendering the rights and freedoms of its citizens in exchange for the false security of an all-controlling state. Those tasks that only governments can perform—defense of the realm, the maintenance of law and order, the repair of infrastructure, and the coordination of relief in emergencies—are forced to compete for their budgets with activities that free citizens, left to themselves, might have managed far more efficiently through the associations of volunteers, backed up where necessary by private insurance. Wasn’t it those associations of volunteers that redeemed, for Alexis de Tocqueville, the American experiment, by showing that democracy is not a form of disorder but another kind of order, and one that could reconcile the freedom of the individual with obedience to an overarching law?

The emasculated society of Europe serves, then, as a warning to conservatives, and reinforces their belief that America must reverse the trend of modern politics, which has involved the increasing assumption by the state of powers and responsibilities that belong to civil society. Such has been the call of the Tea Party movement, and it is this same call that animated the Republican caucus in Congress as it prolonged the fight against Obamacare, to the point where, by jeopardizing the fiscal probity of the nation, it antagonized the American people. It is therefore pertinent to consider not only the bad side of government—which Americans can easily recognize—but also the good. For American conservatives are in danger of appearing as though they had no positive idea of government at all, and were in the business simply of opposing all new federal programs, however necessary they may be to the future and security of the nation. Most of all, they seem to be losing sight of the truth that government is not only natural to the human condition, but an expression of those extended loyalties over time, which bind generation to generation in a relation of mutual commitment.

The truth is that government, of one kind or another, is manifest in all our attempts to live in peace with our fellows. We have rights that shield us from those who are appointed to rule us—many of them ancient common-law rights, like that defined by habeas corpus. But those rights are real personal possessions only because government is there to enforce them—and if necessary to enforce them against itself. Government is not what so many conservatives believe it to be, and what people on the left always believe it to be when it is in hands other than their own—namely a system of power and domination. Government is a search for order, and for power only insofar as power is required by order. It is present in the family, in the village, in the free associations of neighbors, and in the “little platoons” extolled by Burke and Tocqueville. It is there in the first movement of affection and good will, from which the bonds of society grow. For it is simply the other side of freedom, and the thing that makes freedom possible.

Rousseau told us that we are “born free,” arguing that we have only to remove the chains imposed by the social order in order to enjoy our full natural potential. Although American conservatives have been skeptical of that idea, and indeed stood against its destructive influence during the time of the ’60s radicals, they nevertheless also have a sneaking tendency to adhere to it. They are heirs to the pioneer culture. They idolize the solitary entrepreneur, who takes the burden of his projects on his own shoulders and makes space for the rest of us as we timidly advance in his wake. This figure, blown up to mythic proportions in the novels of Ayn Rand, has, in less fraught varieties, a rightful place in the American story. But the story misleads people into imagining that the free individual exists in the state of nature, and that we become free by removing the shackles of government. That is the opposite of the truth.

We are not, in the state of nature, free; still less are we individuals, endowed with rights and duties, and able to take charge of our lives. We are free by nature because we can become free, in the course of our development. And this development depends at every point upon the networks and relations that bind us to the larger social world. Only certain kinds of social networks encourage people to see themselves as individuals, shielded by their rights and bound together by their duties. Only in certain conditions are people united in society not by organic necessity but by free consent. To put it simply, the human individual is a social construct. And the emergence of the individual in the course of history is part of what distinguishes our civilization from so many of the other social ventures of mankind.

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Are ssm advocates who reject the way Brendon Eich was treated condescending?

5 May

From Anderson and George:

Historically and across cultures, marriage has been the institution that unites a man and woman as husband and wife to be father and mother to children born of their union, providing their offspring with the distinctive contributions of paternal and maternal care and influence. That understanding of marriage shaped its structuring norms, including the norm of sexual complementarity that has been found always and everywhere.

Yesterday this understanding of marriage was common sense; today it is dangerous heresy to an ever-more Inquisitorial cultural elite: Support for marriage as a male-female union has swiftly become, among the mandarins of culture, the most hated position on the most heated question.

In April, more than 50 scholars and leaders, all self-identified same-sex marriage supporters, called their allies to higher moral ground. Prompted by the bullying of Brendan Eich and his resignation as CEO of Mozilla for his 2008 donation to California’s Proposition 8 campaign, they wrote to decry the “deeply illiberal impulse” to “punish rather than to criticize or to persuade” political dissenters. Because “opposition to gay marriage” can be “expressed respectfully,” they urged, it should not be “a punishable offense.” No one should lose a job for “holding a wrong opinion.” Trying to purge the workplace or the public square of dissent is, as they see it, political “oppress[ion].”

As supporters of marriage as the union of husband and wife, we applaud the signatories’ support for a free society. In any healthy civic order, citizens will be able to disagree with each other even about important matters without intimidation and recrimination. The right to dissent will be honored and those who express dissent will be respected not bullied into submission or silence. We thank the signatories of “Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent” for their defense of civility.

We also agree with them that the future of marriage needs to be a matter of robust public debate. That’s why it’s important for these and other supporters of same-sex marriage — indeed for all Americans — to engage the serious arguments in this debate.

We write to make three points.

1. It is rational to support marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and supporters of same-sex marriage should stand up and say so, condemning attempts to disparage belief in marriage as a conjugal partnership as irrational — the moral and intellectual equivalent of racism, misogyny, and other forms of bigotry.

The statement issued last month falls short of such a declaration, lacking a clear acknowledgment that those with the contrary view hold a rationally defensible position.

The distinguished political theorist Peter Berkowitz faulted the authors of the statement for precisely this failure:

The signatories of “Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent” do not go so far as to acknowledge the merit in arguments against same-sex marriage. … their public statement indicates that in their view their opponents have little to say that is reasonable. Unwavering in their commitment to same-sex marriage, they imply that those who disagree are at best benighted, ignorant, or confused.

Indeed, by suggesting that support for marriage as a union of husband and wife is simply opposition to the cause of “gay equality,” the signatories seem to share — and certainly say nothing to reject — the idea that opposition cannot be rational; that only ignorance or animus could motivate it; that it is ultimately a matter of bigotry.

Yet these are precisely the false and pernicious ideas that motivated the persecutors of Brendan Eich.

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The closing of the Academic Mind – The Federalist

23 Apr

Scathing…

Harvard student Sandra Y.L. Korn recently proposed in The Harvard Crimson that academics should be stopped if their research is deemed oppressive. Arguing that “academic justice” should replace “academic freedom,” she writes: “If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of ‘academic freedom’?”

In other words, Korn would have the university cease to be a forum for open debate and free inquiry in the name of justice, as defined by mainstream liberal academia.

Unfortunately, this is already a reality in most universities across America, where academics and university administrators alike are trying, often successfully, to discredit and prohibit certain ideas and ways of thinking. Particularly in the humanities, many ideas are no longer considered legitimate, and debate over them is de facto non-existent. In order to delegitimize researchers who are out of line, academics brand them with one of several terms that have emerged from social science theory.

Most people outside academia are unaware that being called ‘hegemonic’ is the insult du jour.

The first term, “hegemonic,” is frequently used in history courses, literary criticism, and gender studies. Hegemony, of course, is a legitimate word that is often useful in describing consistency and uniformity. However, most people outside academia are unaware that being called ‘hegemonic’ is the insult du jour. It strongly implies that you are close-minded and perhaps even bigoted. This term may be applied to offences ranging from referencing the habits or dress of a cultural group to discussing the views held by a religion (and daring to question them—so long as the religion in question is not Christianity).

To do these things is to “essentialize” those people by speaking about them broadly and being so bold as to imply that they may share a practice or belief in a general sense. It is the insult of those who would have every department in academia broken down into sub-departments ad infinitum in order to avoid saying anything general about anything, resulting in verbal and intellectual paralysis.

This strategy of labeling has been particularly successful in its application to middle-eastern and Islamic studies. Any author, or student, who does not join in the liberal narrative about Islamic culture—which includes unwavering support for Palestinians, the absolute equality of men and women in Islam, and an insistence on the peaceful nature of the religion despite any violent tendencies in its foundation— will find themselves labeled an “orientalist.”

Write anything else and you will find yourself labeled an orientalist and no graduate course will touch your work with a ten-foot pole.

Edward Said popularized this term in his 1978 post-colonial work Orientalism. According to many of my colleagues, an orientalist is a person who writes about the Middle East from a “western perspective,” which is when one does not unquestioningly support and affirm Middle Eastern and Islamic culture. This does not mean that westerners are excluded from writing about the Middle East and Islam. A westerner can do so successfully so long as their research is void of criticism. Write anything else and you will find yourself labeled an orientalist and no graduate course will touch your work with a ten-foot pole.

Sadly, this is precisely what has happened to the work of Bernard Lewis, one of the world’s most renowned Middle East scholars. Because he has written about clashes between Islam and the West, and is willing to look at the Middle East outside the utopian academic optic, Lewis has been “dis-credited” and replaced with authors like Tariq Ramadan in college or graduate course syllabi. Similarly, Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and visiting professor at Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown universities, has been dismissed as “not a historian” by some academics, presumably because of his pro-Israeli stance. Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, an associate professor at Reed College, strips the scholar Daniel Pipes of his status as a historian, writing that he is a “historian of Islam turned pro-Israel activist,” implying that the two are mutually exclusive.

The effect of discrediting one’s opponents in this way—rather than engaging and debating their ideas—is to create an academia where there is only one right way to think. If you dissent, you will be blackballed and labeled as hegemonic or orientalist.

The effect of discrediting one’s opponents in this way—rather than engaging and debating their ideas—is to create an academia where there is only one right way to think.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in Brandeis University’s withdrawal of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali recently because of her “controversial” stance on women’s rights in Muslim society, which mostly consists of objecting to things like female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and honor killings. Rather than defending Hirsi Ali, or at the very least welcoming the debate that her presence would bring, Brandeis chose to shut her out. This was done at the behest of Brandeis faculty, students, and the Council of American-Islamic Relations, all of whom claim she is Islamaphobic.

The censorial climate of academia extends beyond tenured professors and touches the students, both in undergraduate and graduate school. They are being taught what is and is not an “acceptable” way of thinking rather than being encouraged to think through difficult questions on their own.

(I recently met a fellow graduate student from a Muslim-majority country who confessed that she is disgusted with the way women are treated in her home country. She finds the inequality unacceptable. However, she felt the need to make a caveat: “I know as an academic and a Muslim I shouldn’t say this…”)

The trouble is, very few in academia will even engage supposedly orientalist and hegemonic views. How can one argue against a room full of graduate students—and a professor—who dismiss such views out of hand and label dissenters with epithets that are tantamount to “racist” in academic parlance?

Korn’s dream of a “just” academic utopia is already being realized. But like many utopian visions, there is a dark underbelly.

Korn’s dream of a “just” academic utopia is already being realized. But like many utopian visions, there is a dark underbelly. Anyone who does not ascribe to the dogma of “academic justice” can expect to be shunned and muzzled—as Brandeis demonstrated recently. The irony is that in its effort to eliminate allegedly close-minded and bigoted views, the university itself has become illiberal, dogmatic, and intellectually hegemonic.

If we shut the doors on academic freedom, the acceptable territory of research and discourse will continue to shrink over time, and the self-censorial dogma of the academy will inevitably trickle out beyond the boundaries of the university campus, threatening freedom of speech—and thought—in society at large.

M.G. Oprea is a PhD candidate in French linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin.

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