Patriotism: Constitutional Government and Character Education Part 2

Patriotism:

Constitutional Government and Character Education

A More American Conservatism

Larry P. Arnn

Part II

Government Education

I prefer to be hopeful about the future, and I am hopeful about the Trump administration. His campaign and his appointments at this early stage give us some information upon which to speculate. Take one example about which I know something: education.

Abolish the Department of Education

culture-war3-reaganTrump has called for the abolition of the Department of Education, as did Reagan. By contrast, both Presidents Bush sought to strengthen that Department. Trump has nominated the splendid Betsy DeVos to be secretary of the Department, and she is a fighter for every kind of school choice.

The federal government spends seven or eight percent of its money on education, and its method is typical of the federal intrusion into local matters: it gives money from the federal treasury to states and localities on condition. The conditions are myriad, confusing, and usually ugly when they can be understood. Title IV of the Higher Education Act governs federal student aid, and it numbers around 500 pages. A lawyer for our college told me once that I would be unable to read it, because he himself cannot read it, for which reason his firm keeps a specialist who is the only person he knows who understands what it says. For this reason alone, it would be a grand thing to get rid of the Department of Education.

Teachers’ Job is to Help Children Learn

There are also some excellent intermediate steps. If one changed the conditions of the federal education money that goes to states, localities, and schools, there could be an immediate influence. Education is one of those things that is easy enough to understand, but hard to do. The first thing to understand is that human beings are made to learn, and they desire to do it naturally.

Parents and Teachers Care More Than Government

homeschoolThis means the job of teachers, like the job of parents, is to help children learn, not to make them or cause them to learn. Good schools are built around this fact. It also means that authority over the schools can best be exercised by those who are closest to the students. What if the federal government required states to pass charter laws that delegated wide latitude and real authority to schools, not to the Department of Education or to state departments of education or to school districts? What if it relied, not upon high-stakes centralized testing as in Common Core, but in the simple fact that parents and teachers are much more likely to care for students than strangers, even if those strangers are highly trained federal bureaucrats?

Hillsdale K-12 Guidelines;

characteredThe chairman of our education program at Hillsdale College has written a series of standards that states might adopt for K-12 education. For each grade, they take up about half a page. But if a child can do the things on that half a page, the child has learned a lot. Here is a way for higher levels of government to be sure that any money they give to lower levels is well spent in education. It involves hardly any management of details. That is the constitutional model, the model that comes from our Founding.

To follow this practice would liberalize the system. It would mean that there would be plenty of bad charter schools, just as there are plenty of bad schools now. But it would also mean that there would be a proliferation of good ones.

Hillsdale Charter School Students Learn Latin, History, Literature

Hillsdale College has helped to found 16 charter schools, with more coming, and they are all doing well. Everybody wears a uniform and signs an honor code. Everybody—indeed everybody in kindergarten—learns to read. Everybody studies mathematics at least through pre-calculus. Everybody learns Latin, history, literature, philosophy, physics, biology, and chemistry.

Test Scores Excel in Relation to Public Schools

commoncore-scores-crashEverybody is admitted by a lottery system. For the inner-city schools, care is taken to advertise only in the immediate area, to make the opportunity available to the children who live in poor areas. The students in these schools make on the average excellent scores on the ubiquitous state standardized tests, and they do this without class time or curriculum set aside to prepare for those tests.

They do very well even in relation to the legions of public schools that now take months to cram only for those tests, which means the students know little more than what is on those tests, and all the adults get raises and promotions if the students do well. That’s why there have been spectacular instances of cheating—by teachers and school administrators!—on those tests.

Charter Schools Not by Federal Mandate, but Voluntary

The kind of education going on in Hillsdale’s charter schools is not something that could be advanced nationally by a federal mandate. Key to the success of these schools is that the school leaders, the parents, and the teachers are all glad to be there and all help willingly to make it work. In other words, they are all volunteers. It is a partnership. Partnerships are cooperative, not imperative. If you force people who are unwilling to do something, they will not do it very well, which is the encapsulation of human freedom.

Nowhere is this freedom more evident than in the process of learning. At Hillsdale College the curriculum is rigorous and the standards of behavior are high. But they are not imperative.

Character Education, Self Government

hillsdalecollege2The ultimate penalty is simply this question: are you sure you want to be here, when there are so many other options, options generally not quite so difficult or strict? The student who responds yes to that question is self-governing, which is the aim. That is why we at Hillsdale would not support a national law that everyone had to do what we do. We know too much about human beings to think that would work.

Department of Education can Lead by Example, not by Force

Let us say that the Department of Education began to reform itself along these lines. It is in a real position to lead if it will do so, because it would be setting a profound example: it would be teaching the governments below not to give people orders all the time. It would be teaching them that parents do after all love their children in the great majority of cases, and that the strongest institutions are built on love. It would be teaching them that schools can do better without a national engineering project to take over their work, to set their tests, to prescribe their behavior. And this would lay the ground for the Department’s abolition.

Are Many Other Departments Needed?

If this is possible in education, it might work in other places too. Since the Founding, twelve cabinet offices have been added to the federal establishment. In the original federal government there was a Secretary of State to handle the relations of the American people with other countries. There must be such relations. There was a Secretary of War (now Defense) to manage the defense of our nation from enemies. We have such enemies, and we must defend ourselves. There was a Secretary of the Treasury to manage the budget and the money of the federal government. To operate, the federal government must collect taxes and spend money. And there was an Attorney General (not originally overseeing a department) to enforce the laws of the federal government. One can see that these functions are necessary to the federal government in a way that the functions of other departments are not.

hillsdalecollege1The Department of Education was founded in 1979, whereas Hillsdale College was founded in 1844. Educa­tion was a thing to behold in the United States long before there was a Depart­ment. Likewise people had houses before we had a Department of Housing and Urban Development; they traveled before we had a Department of Transportation; they traded before we had a Department of Commerce.

You can see the line of thought. A federal government with four cabinet officers would be a federal government doing what it was built to do. That is why it is breathtaking that Trump would call for the elimination of departments, and breathtaking that he would appoint some and interview others who at least want to restrict the activities of those departments so people can be free.

We do not know what this election means. That is in the future. If it means that we will return to constitutional government, it means the most important thing that it can mean.

Our Country Belongs to Its Citizens

Trump-Make-America-Great-MAPSome say it will mean the denigration of immigrants based on race or religion. Trump has not said that: he has said that our country belongs to its citizens. Think of consent of the governed, the principle of the relationship between the people and the government in America. That cannot mean just the will of the people, that they can do whatever they want. Otherwise they would be giving consent to governments that would immediately take away their right to consent. It must mean, if it means anything, that consent is rightly given only to governments that protect their right to consent.

Moreover it cannot mean that anyone has a right to be a citizen of the United States, even if it is truly said that the principles of the nation are universal. It means rather that the United States, alone among the nations of the earth, is a set of practices and beliefs, available in principle to every people to believe those beliefs and adopt those practices.

King George Expanded Canadian Border into America

It means also that citizens have the right to determine who becomes a citizen. In the Declaration of Independence, one of the complaints against the King is that he expanded the borders of Quebec down into the American colonies, having given that province a government by his fiat alone. The King was attempting to choose the people, whereas the people have the right to choose the government. Trump and the American people seem to favor the latter, and in that vital respect they are on the side of the Founders.

Restoring US Government’s Principle Role: Protecting the Rights of the American People

globalismSome say that Trump will turn us toward “isolationism” and away from “internationalism.” These are not principles to which one can assign any meaning. The purpose of the government of the United States is to protect the rights of the people of the United States. If we mean by internationalism the practices and institutions that Winston Churchill helped to build, including NATO, I revere them. Also I know that Churchill helped build those according to his best judgment how to protect the actual life of freedom, responsibility, and prosperity of the British people, first and foremost, because he worked for them.

Russia may be a problem today, but not the problem that the Soviet Union was. Western Europe may be an ally today, but is it so good an ally as it was before it built an unaccountable Europe-wide government, in defiance of the popular votes of several countries still subject to it? The United States can be the leader of the world only if it is strong, and it now for the first time is deeply in debt. Lincoln said, “As our case is new, so we must think anew.” The case is new today. I for one would stay close to Britain and Israel, old friends who have the art of self-government. But everything including that must be thought through. We seem to have a chance to do that now.

The polls tell us that the American people today live in fear of the government. Now they have elected someone new, and we will soon know if he is good. It is a simple fact that he has never done anything like this before, and very great people have found such things difficult. But I would be hopeful for many reasons. One of the main ones is that he wrote this, on January 16 of this year:

The United States of America is a land of laws, and Americans value the rule of law above all. Why, then, has our Congress allowed the president and the executive branch to take on near-dictatorial power? . . . What is needed in Washington is a president who will rein in the executive branch and work with Congress to make sure the legislative branch does its job.

Trump has said that these are his purposes. Pray that he achieves them.

Patriotism: Constitutional Government and Character Education Part I

 

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Patriotism: Constitutional Government and Character Education Part 1

Patriotism:

Constitutional Government and Character Education

A More American Conservatism

Part I

Larry P. Arnn
President, Hillsdale College

Larry P. Arnn is the twelfth president of Hillsdale College. He received his B.A. from Arkansas State University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in government from the Claremont Graduate School. From 1977 to 1980, he also studied at the London School of Economics and at Worcester College, Oxford University, where he served as director of research for Martin Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill. From 1985 until his appointment as president of Hillsdale College in 2000, he was president of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy. He is the author of Liberty and Learning: The Evolution of American EducationThe Founders’ Key: The Divine and Natural Connection Between the Declaration and the Constitution; and Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill and the Salvation of Free Government.

keyThings in the past are like things in the present: they must be judged. ~Dr. Larry Arnn

The astonishing political campaign of 2016 involved much debate about whether Donald Trump is a conservative. constitutional-convention-foundersHe was not always facile with the lingo of conservatism, and he pointed out once that he was seeking the nomination of the Republican, not the conservative party. Yet there is a lot we can learn from him about conservatism.

What is conservatism? It is a derivative term: it refers to something outside itself. We cannot conserve the present or the future, and the past being full of contradiction, we cannot conserve it entire. In the past one finds heroism and villainy; justice and injustice; freedom and slavery. Things in the past are like things in the present: they must be judged. Conservative people know this if they have any sense.

It’s the Principle of the Thing

What then makes them conservative? It is the additional knowledge that things that have had a good reputation for a long time are more trustworthy than new things. This is especially true of original things. The very term principle refers to something that comes first; to change the principle of a thing is to change it into something else. Without the principle, the thing is lost.

Original Documents

constitution1If American conservatism means anything, then, it means the things found at the beginning of America, when it became a nation. The classics teach us that forming political bonds is natural to people, written in their nature, stemming from the divine gift they have of speech and reason. This means in turn that the Declaration of Independence, where the final causes of our nation are stated, and the Constitution of the United States, where the form of government is established, are the original things. These documents were written by people who were friends and who understood the documents to pursue the same ends. Taken together they are the longest surviving things of their kind, and under their domain our country spread across a continent and became the strongest nation on earth, the bastion of freedom. These documents do not appeal to all conservatives, but I argue that they should, both for their age and for their worthiness.

It follows then that if Donald Trump helps to conserve these things, he is a conservative in the sense that matters most to the republic of the Americans. Will he?

He will have a hard road. Today the authority of these two documents is in obvious decline for obvious reasons. In the academy they are rejected as obsolete or evil, and this opinion spreads throughout the talking classes, most everywhere in education, journalism, and entertainment. It has spread widely and deeply into the law. As a result our government has swollen beyond recognition, and it is centralized to a degree unimagined in the Constitution.

Laws Are Now Made by Regulatory Agencies, Not Congress

keyI’ve proposed a moratorium on new fedral regulations that are not compelled by Congress or public safety, and I will eliminate all needless and job-killing regulations now on the books. ~Donald Trump, Time, 9/15/16

On the first day of my term of office, my Administration will immediately pursue …  a requirement that for every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated.” ~Donald Trump’s Contract for the American Voter, ” 10/22/16

bureaucratscautionsign Laws are made now chiefly by regulatory agencies that combine in themselves all three powers of government. The popular or elected branches may overturn these regulations only when they unite to do so, and this is increasingly rare. So every institution in society is in principle subject to comprehensive regulation. Every employer, every school, many clubs, and family life itself are now the subject of rules too complex for the lay person to grasp. These rules are not always enforced, nor can they be, but Americans sense that they better be looking over their shoulders, careful of what they say.

Constitution makes Ruler and Ruled Equal

3-branches-govtThis has changed the way we live. Compliance increasingly replaces law-abidingness as the public goal. Laws, the Founders held, must be simple, few, and constant. Then we may all know what they are, live under them, and help to enforce them. This makes us equal, ruler and ruled. It means that we do not quail before the forces of the law. We are the forces of the law.

Compliance Means Conforming to Arbitrary Decrees

obama-cartoon-congressCompliance, by contrast, means adapting constantly to changing and complex instructions from central authorities, and it means the employment of specialists to interpret the regulations and make sure others conform. In addition to this, whole populations, and not only in the inner city, live in long-term dependence on the government (read Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance). It means that the government is separate from the people, and it means that the government grows.

These new features of American government present a danger implicit in the manner of our Constitution. Ours, wrote Madison, is the first nation to adopt purely representative forms. This means that all sovereignty or authority to rule is located in the governed or in the people. But at the same time, the people do not occupy the offices of government—as they did, for instance, in Athenian democracy. America’s pure or simple “republicanism,” as Madison called it, makes possible the separation of powers both between the governed and their government and also inside the parts of the government. The sovereign people delegate their authority to government, separately to separate places.

This separation is both horizontal, among the branches of the federal government, and vertical, between the states and the federal government. The people themselves are outside the government, and they may intervene only at election time. Between elections, they watch, judge, and argue—in other words, they think before they act. Over time, but only over time, they may replace the whole lot. This system limits both their power and the power of those in government.

Bloated Government Has a Will of Its Own

Ben Garrison

Ben Garrison

Today, however, the government has grown so large that it is a major factor in everything, including elections, and is in the position of taking on a will of its own. It is on the verge of being too big for private people to manage. This is the political crisis of our time. No policy question, with the exception of imminent major war, which we do not have right now, can matter so much.

Trump has addressed this problem more directly than anyone since Ronald Reagan—in some ways, more than anyone including Reagan. He would drain the swamp. He would abolish the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education. He has rallied the people in direct opposition to their governing elite. He has appealed to the people directly in opposition to their government.

And what has he achieved?—from nothing, a constitutional majority that controls all the popular branches at the federal level, soon to have a profound effect on the judiciary. In addition, his party advanced from a strong position in state legislatures and governorships. The party of Trump, if the Republican Party is that party, is in a position to make changes, as good or better a position as it has enjoyed since the Great Society.

Political Correctness got  trumped by Moral Courage

TrumpPCMoreover, Trump ran in utter defiance of the political correctness that enforces this new system of government. He did not bend his knee to identity groups. He claimed to represent all “citizens,” a favorite term, by which he means citizens who hold that status under the law. He said he would represent their interest and their country, which he will make great again, and not the interest of any others. He did not care that this intention was conflated with racism. He saw that conflation as another sign of corruption, which it certainly is. Unless he is insensate, which he does not seem, Trump is possessed of moral courage as much as assertiveness, and his assertiveness is a sight to behold.

Mobs Created by Liberalism, Not Trump

But can he do anything? Many conservatives have been doubtful of Trump and many others opposed. There are reasons for this. He is the first man elected president as his first significant public service. He is sometimes vulgar. He is a celebrity, star of his own show, which is playing wherever he goes. His is not the understated sort of elitism. Consistent with this, he is a populist: he likes ordinary folk, and they like him.

This has made some conservative and libertarian people fear mobs with pitchforks. I fear them myself because I see them on so many college campuses, but not on my own, and not among the Trump supporters. I think these mobs are the product of modern liberalism and the bureaucratic state, not the product of Trump.

Part II: What would Happen if the Department of Education were Abolished?

History Facts: Charitable Giving vs. Government Grants

History Facts:

Private Charitable Giving vs. Government Grants

Charitable Giving and the Fabric of America

Karl Zinsmeister

Reprinted by permission from Hillsdale College

Start your free Constitution 101 course today.

The U.S. Constitution is the key to securing liberty for all Americans — yet very few know exactly what it says, and what freedoms it protects. Hillsdale College is dedicating this year to educating millions of Americans about this critical document. That’s why the College is offering its most popular course, “Constitution 101” for free, when you sign up now, and receive first lesson by email. 

 

philanthropy1Private philanthropy is crucial in making America the unusual country that it is. Let’s start with some numbers. Our nonprofit sector now comprises eleven percent of the total United States workforce. It will contribute around six percent of gross domestic product this year. To put this in perspective, the charitable sector passed the national defense sector in size in 1993, and it continues to grow. And these numbers don’t take volunteering into account: charitable volunteers make up the equivalent—depending on how you count—of between four and ten million full-time employees. So philanthropy is clearly a huge force in our society.

To begin to understand this crucial part of America, it is useful—and also inspiring—to consider some of America’s great philanthropists.

Ned McIlhenny, born and raised in a Louisiana bayou, had a day job in addition to being a philanthropist: manufacturing and selling the hot pepper condiment invented by his family, McIlhenny Tabasco. There is big money in helping people burn their tongues, and McIlhenny used his resulting fortune for an array of good works. I’ll give you just one example. When he was young, hats with egret plumes were all the rage for ladies—like Coach handbags today—with the effect that the snowy egret, a magnificent creature native to Louisiana’s bayous, had become nearly extinct. In response, McIlhenny beat the bushes to find eight baby egrets on a private island his family owned. By 1911, he built up a population of 100,000 egrets on the island. At the same time, he convinced John D. Rockefeller and other philanthropists to help him purchase some swampy land to use as a winter refuge for egrets and other birds.

Another American philanthropist was Alfred Loomis. Passionate about science from early boyhood, he entered law school when his father died in order to be able to support the family. Hating the study of law and wishing to return to science, he went to work on Wall Street, and by the early 1930s he had become one of the richest men in America. Retiring from finance, he set up one of the world’s great experimental labs in a mansion across the street from his home north of New York City.

In 1938, Loomis visited Berlin and was struck by two things: Hitler’s popularity and the brilliance of German scientists. He returned home convinced that war was brewing and that science would have a lot to do with who won. He poured himself and his fortune into a promising new field that had defense applications—a way to use radio waves to detect moving objects—and his lab very quickly became the national leader in what we now call radar. Thousands of radar sets created under Loomis’s supervision did much to turn the tide of World War II.

Even more than his money, Loomis’s methods account for his remarkable success. Appalled by the bureaucracy and sluggishness of government research programs, he took a radically different approach in his lab. When it became apparent how successful his approach had been in producing radar, the Department of Defense copied it directly for the Manhattan Project, even hiring many of the scientists from Loomis’s radar lab. President Roosevelt later said that there was no civilian who did more to win World War II than Alfred Loomis.

Another philanthropist was Kodak founder George Eastman, who popularized photography in the early 1900s. When he began his business, photography was all art and guesswork, and very little science. He hired chemists from an obscure school called Boston Tech, and out of gratitude for what they did for his company he later provided most of the money that transformed Boston Tech into the powerhouse MIT. And he did so anonymously—for years and years, the donor behind MIT was referred to as “Mr. Smith.” Eastman also had a passion for music, so he methodically created and built to world prominence the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. The Eastman School played an important role in popularizing classical music in America, and it remains today one of our top cultural institutions.

philanthropy3-hersheyAnother great American donor was Milton Hershey, who transformed chocolate from an expensive indulgence of the wealthy into an affordable treat for all. More importantly, he was responsible, with his wife, for the creation of a school for orphans. Hershey’s father had been a drinker and a neglectful family man, and he had known great hardship during his childhood. To relieve other children of hardship, he built a ring of houses encircling his home in Pennsylvania, installing in each a married couple to live with a group of orphans. He also built a school to provide the children a sound education and training in industrial crafts. Eventually he announced plans “to make the orphan boys of the United States my heirs,” and he endowed the Milton Hershey School with the equivalent of $11 billion in today’s dollars.

But philanthropy in the United States is not just a story—or even primarily a story—about wealthy people or big foundations. Only 14 percent of charitable giving in our country comes from foundations, and only five percent from corporations. The rest comes from individuals, and the bulk of it comes from small givers at an average rate of about $2,500 per household per year.

Anne Scheiber was a shy auditor who retired in 1944 with $5,000 in the bank. Through frugal living and inspired stock investment, she managed to turn this into $22 million by the time she died in 1995 at the age of 101. She left it to Yeshiva University so that bright but needy girls could attend college and medical school.

Elinor Sauerwein painted her own home, mowed her own lawn, and kept a vegetable garden in Modesto, California, until she was in her 90s. She avoided cable TV and almost never ate out. Her financial advisor reported that her goal was to amass as much wealth as she could for the Salvation Army—to which, when she died in 2011, she left $1.7 million.

Albert Lexie has shined shoes in Pittsburgh for over 40 years. He decided years ago to donate his tips to the Free Care Fund of the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Since 1981, Lexie has donated over $200,000 to the fund, about a third of his total earnings.

Oseola McCarty of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, dropped out of school in sixth grade to support the woman who raised her, going to work as a washerwoman. She preferred using boiling pots, a scrub board, and 100 feet of open-air clothesline to an automatic washer and dryer, which she said didn’t meet her standards. When she retired in 1995, she had $280,000 in the bank. She set aside what she needed to live on and donated $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi, about two miles from where she lived, to fund scholarships for needy students to receive the education she never had. When news of her gift got out, citizens of Hattiesburg made donations that more than tripled her initial endowment. Today, several full tuition McCarty scholarships are awarded each year.

Many remarkable things have come about in America through the aggregation of dispersed giving. Historian Daniel Boorstin has noted that in 1880, the state of Ohio had only three million inhabitants but 37 colleges. That same year, England had 23 million inhabitants but only four colleges. The difference was small-scale philanthropy directed towards education. Western Reserve College, launched in 1826, was made possible by the giving of thousands of Ohioans, mostly frontier farmers. One supporter spent a whole winter hauling building supplies to the school from a quarry about ten miles away. Another family pledged a fraction of its egg and milk sales over a number of years. Of course you at Hillsdale College know this story well, sharing exactly the same sort of beginning.

Breaking Poverty Cycle

There are activists today who argue that only money given to the poor should be counted as charitable. Is that a humane argument? It strikes me as astoundingly short-sighted. Most of the philanthropy that has resulted in a reduction of poverty over the years has nothing to do with alms. Consider donors who give to charter schools today. These charter schools are doing more to break the cycles of poverty and human failure than welfare transfers ever could.

Historical sites

washington-mt-vernonKnowledge of our history is an essential element of American citizenship. Did you know that George Washington’s Mount Vernon was saved from ruin by thousands of small donors from the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, under whose protection it continues to operate today?

 

 

jefferson-monticelloThomas Jefferson’s Monticello has been protected for more than a century by a private foundation that receives no public funding.

The same is true for Montpelier, the home of James Madison, and for the summer cottage where Abraham Lincoln spent a quarter of his presidency and made some of his most momentous decisions—the latter was just restored by private donors and opened to the public in 2008.

 

american-cathedralAmerica’s great cathedrals are also products of private giving. The building of Saint John the Divine was begun in New York City with a gift from J.P. Morgan, and was completed over a period of decades with the help of thousands of small donations. The National Cathedral in Washington, probably the last pure Gothic cathedral that will ever be constructed, was built with small donations over a period of 97 years.

Public libraries too. John Jacob Astor, James Lennox, and Samuel Tilden gave millions of dollars to create the New York Public Library. In Baltimore, Enoch Pratt provided both money and planning for a multi-branch public library. Andrew Carnegie created more than 2,500 libraries in towns and cities across the country.

Science in America is deeply entwined with philanthropy. Take the high-end telescopes that allow astronomers to make important discoveries about the universe. The Lick, Yerkes, Mount Wilson, Mount Palomar, and Keck telescopes were filled with light by private money, and the two massive telescopes being built today—the Magellan and Thirty-Meter telescopes—are relying on private donations as well.

The Guggenheim family, which we associate with museums, created nearly all of the aeronautical engineering departments that initially propelled us into space, and was the sole funder of the career of Robert Goddard, the genius most responsible for American leadership in space flight.

Rockefeller-senJohn D. Rockefeller’s funding for medical research started around 1901. Forty-seven Nobel Prize winners in science received significant financial support from Rockefeller before they earned their awards, and another 14 were supported at some point by Rockefeller money. The breakthroughs by these men and women include advances in blood typing and genetic research, penicillin, the yellow fever vaccine, and kidney transplants. The John Hartford Foundation funded some of the earliest kidney transplants, created the professional societies where kidney experts share information, and made kidney dialysis practical for the first time.

The topic of medical research brings to mind the question of how private philanthropy compares to government funding. The former is superior in its ability to be individualized and pluralistic. What do I mean by this?

Government Programs vs. Private Individuals

charity1Many of the most successful causes in the charitable world—causes like micro lending, Alcoholics Anonymous, mentoring programs, and college dropout programs—rely heavily on one-to-one accountability, taking advantage of the information available when you know who you’re working with. By creating personal transactions, they use the power of relationships to change behavior. As Mother Teresa used to say, “I never think in terms of a crowd, but of individual persons.”

Government programs, by necessity, focus on the crowd. Far from having different approaches and rules for different kinds of people, they are about being strictly the same for all participants. They are praised for being consistent, but one-size-fits-all standardization is not really how humans thrive. Individualized services, hard to come by in government programs, are a hallmark of philanthropic work.

Polyarchy—the opposite of Monarchy

Which leads us to a fancy word that every American ought to know: polyarchy—referring to a society in which there are many independent sources of power (the opposite of monarchy). The United States has a notably polyarchic culture, and independent philanthropy is a big part of this. As Yale Law Professor Stephen Carter points out, different people measure community needs with “different calipers,” and millions of individual philanthropic decisions lead to more variety in giving, and more protection for non-mainstream points of view, than government programs.

Private Philanthropy grossly Under-estimated

Still, partly because so much of private charity takes place out of the public eye—on the local level, private, often anonymous—many grossly underestimate its power and insist that major concerns can only be addressed through government action. They seem to have three major criticisms of private philanthropy: 1) one, it’s a drop in the bucket; 2) two, it’s amateurish, chaotic, and lacks expert coordination; and 3) three, private donors act from impure motives.

philanthropy2-charity1) Drop in the bucket?

The Gates Foundation alone distributes more overseas assistance than the entire Italian government. Over its first two decades, its overseas vaccine program is projected to save the lives of almost eight million children. And the Gates Foundation represents only a tiny sliver of American philanthropy directed overseas.

Members of American churches and synagogues send four-and-a-half times as much to foreigners in need each year as Gates does, and total private American philanthropic aid sent overseas substantially exceeds the foreign aid budget of the U.S. government. The latest totals are about $39 billion and $31 billion, respectively.

2) What about the charge that private philanthropy is amateurish and lacks expert coordination?

Consider Lizzie Kander, who ran a settlement house in the early 1900s that assimilated Russian Jewish immigrants. She used funds donated by Milwaukee businessmen to teach the immigrants nutrition, sanitation, child development, and employable skills. Needing additional money, she compiled a cookbook and housekeeping guide to sell as a fundraiser, covering the cost of production by selling ads. It was titled The Settlement Cook Book—with the politically incorrect subtitle, The Way to a Man’s Heart—and eventually sold two million copies. The revenue stream from this effort benefited Jewish immigrants in the Upper Midwest for 75 years, in addition to other charitable projects.

“Expert” not all it’s cracked up to be

I worked for three years in the West Wing of the White House, and I can tell you that so-called expert coordination isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The healthiest forms of societal improvement result from lots of little experiments. Some will fail, but others will succeed and be copied. This is the method by which private philanthropy proceeds.

No Central Planning is a Blessing

Think about what happens every autumn weekend at hundreds of stadiums around our country. What is involved when you move a crowd of 50,000 from the stadium to their cars to their homes? If you tried to plan or direct that from a central perch, it would be a mess. There are too many variables. The average fan may not realize that he’s exhibiting what scientists call large-scale adaptive intelligence in the absence of central direction, but that’s what he’s doing. There are lots of less trivial examples of this. Essential human tasks like food distribution are managed without any central organization. There’s no agency in charge of making sure that Fort Worth doesn’t run out of milk, but it never does. That’s what happens in a free society. Lack of uniformity and coordination is more often than not a blessing.

3) What of the third alleged weakness of private charity—the idea that private donors have impure motives?

Although typical donors are not more interested in getting a tax break or their name on a building than in altruism, it’s true that philanthropists are not always angels. But is this a persuasive argument against private charitable giving?

Paul Getty was a cheapskate who made visitors to his estate use a pay phone, even though he was one of the richest men in the world. When his grandson was kidnapped in Italy and held for a $17 million ransom, he dickered over the amount until the kidnappers mailed him his grandson’s ear. Even then, Getty was only willing to lend the ransom to his son at a rate of four percent interest. Yet J. Paul Getty also bequeathed to us one of the most sublime collections of Greek and Roman art, a gift that will elevate souls for centuries to come.

Russell Sage, a notorious miser and a convicted usurer, cheated his wife’s father when they were in business together. When a mad extortionist blew up his Wall Street office with dynamite, Sage used one of his clerks as a human shield and then refused to pay compensation for the man’s injuries. Yet Sage’s fortunes eventually created one of the most influential early charitable foundations in the country.

There are foolish givers and dumb projects. But charitable programs that don’t produce results soon die or are remade into something different.

The genius of the philanthropic mechanism is that it is able to take people just as they are, imperfections and all, and help them do wondrously useful things.

adamsmithwlthofnationsAdam Smith noted that freely conducted commerce can turn normal human behaviors, including mercenary ones, into something valuable. This is as true in the world of philanthropy as it is in business.

Part of the magic of America’s charitable structure is that it is able to convert commonplace private impulses into tremendous uplift for all of society.

Volunteerism is Superior to State Paternalism

We humans are social animals, and we naturally become disturbed and want to help when we see fellow creatures in trouble. Early on, Americans discovered that voluntary action to lift others up is not only possible, it is superior to the kind of state paternalism that diminishes freedom. Private charitable giving and the spirit of volunteerism have been essential bulwarks of the American character, and they remain indispensable to our national success.

History: American Business and Enterprise

Dinner Topics for Thursday

Business and Enterprise in American History

History-Clues

keyThe opportunities for people with ideas and a willingness to take risks are plentiful in America.

“Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.”

John Steele Gordon
Author, An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power
John Steele Gordon was educated at Millbrook School and Vanderbilt University. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Forbes, National Review, Commentary, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He is a contributing editor at American Heritage, where he wrote the “Business of America” column for many years, and currently writes “The Long View” column for Barron’s. He is the author of several books, including Hamilton’s Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt, The Great Game: The Emergence of Wall Street as a World Power, and An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power.
The following is adapted from a speech delivered in San Diego, California, on November 15, 2013, at a Hillsdale College Free Market Forum on the topic “Markets, Government, and the Common Good.”

The word “entrepreneur”—

one who undertakes, manages, and assumes the risk of a new enterprise—comes from the French, where it literally means “undertaker.” The word was borrowed into English in the mid-19th century¬—perhaps the golden age of the entrepreneur—when the number of new economic niches was exploding and the hand of government was at its lightest in history. The activity of entrepreneurship, of course, is much older, going back to ancient times. As for America, our nation was founded, quite literally, by entrepreneurs.

Early Entrepreneurs

In 1607 the Virginia Company sent three ships across the Atlantic and unloaded 109 passengers at what became Jamestown, Virginia. They were embarked on a new business enterprise that they hoped would be profitable—American plantations. The Virginia Company was a joint-stock company, a relatively new invention that allowed people to invest in enterprises without running the risk of losing everything if the business did not succeed. By limiting liability, corporations greatly increased the number of people who could dare to become entrepreneurs by pooling their resources while avoiding the possibility of ruin. Thus the corporation was one of the great inventions of the Renaissance, along with printing, double-entry bookkeeping, and the full-rigged ship.
Allowing incorporation as a matter of law, rather than requiring an act of the executive or of the legislature, began in the United States as early as 1811, when New York State passed a general incorporation law for certain businesses, including anchor makers—I suspect an anchor manufacturer had a friend in Albany. Soon enlarged in scope, the ability to incorporate simply by filling out the right forms freed the process from politics, and the number of corporations exploded. There had been only seven companies incorporated in British North America, but the state of Pennsylvania alone incorporated more than 2,000 between 1800 and 1860.
Unfortunately for the stockholders of the Virginia Company, the business of American plantations was a very new one and had a steep learning curve—a curve that would be encountered again and again as the American economy developed and new industries were born. It is a curve all would-be entrepreneurs must climb to be successful. The Virginia Company did not climb that curve quickly enough, and made just about every mistake that it could make: It tried to run Jamestown as a company town; it searched for gold, of which Virginia has none, instead of planting crops; and it failed at establishing a glass-making industry. Eventually Jamestown was nearly abandoned. Only when John Rolfe introduced West Indian tobacco in 1612 did Virginia find an export that had a market in Europe—indeed a market that grew explosively and made Virginia rich. But by that time it was far too late for the Virginia Company, which went broke.
In fact, of course, most entrepreneurs do fail.
It has not been nearly well enough noted that the American colonies, while many ended up in royal hands, were not founded by the English state. Several, such as Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Virginia, were founded by profit-seeking corporations. Others, such as Pennsylvania and Maryland, were founded by proprietors. To be sure, many of these enterprises had non-entrepreneurial motives, such as providing a refuge for religious dissenters. John Winthrop wanted the Puritans to establish a “shining city on a hill”; William Penn thought of Pennsylvania as a “Holy Experiment” where Quakers could live in peace. But Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, and Pennsylvania were also expected to show a profit. “Though I desire to extend religious freedom,” said Penn, “yet I want some recompense for my troubles.”
New York, of course, was founded by the Dutch, not the English, and profit was the sole reason for settling on Manhattan. Indeed, so bent on money making were the Dutch that they did not get around to building a church for 17 years, worshiping instead in the fort. When they did finally build a church, they named it for St. Nicholas, and Santa Claus has been the patron saint of New York ever since.
Even after the British took the colony in 1664, the Dutch devotion to commerce remained. Harking back to the early source of its economic success, the fur trade, the city’s seal remains a beaver surrounded by wampum. Even today, that little hustly-bustly Dutch village lies at the heart of the world’s most important and powerful city, and making money is still New York’s chief business.

Even in the theocracy that was early New England, the entrepreneurial spirit burned bright.

newenglandcolonistsUnlike the colonies on the Chesapeake, there was no cash crop that could be grown in New England’s stony soil and short growing season. Perhaps the closest thing to a cash crop was that singular beast, the Atlantic cod. Pulled from the great fishing waters off New England in prodigious numbers, it was salted, dried, and shipped to Europe to provide cheap protein for the masses. Even today, there is a carving of a codfish hanging in the Massachusetts State House. Perhaps because New England lacked a true cash crop, its economy became much more diverse than those of the Southern colonies. Shipping and shipbuilding, lumber, fishing, slaving, and rum distilling became mainstays of the New England economy and produced its earliest fortunes.
Also very important to the evolving New England economy was iron, a commodity that had by then been indispensable for 3,000 years. At first this iron had to be imported at vast expense from foundries in England. John Winthrop the younger—son of the man who coined the phrase “shining city on a hill”—saw opportunity and, a born entrepreneur, he seized it. There was plenty of iron ore available, but to make iron he needed something America did not then have—capital. So he sailed to England in 1641 to get it. Why, one might well wonder, would English capitalists invest in a major industrial enterprise located in a wilderness 3,000 miles away? The answer lay in something America did have in indescribable abundance—wood. Charcoal was as indispensable as ore to iron smelting, and whereas England’s forests were being rapidly cut down, America had well over a million square miles of forest. So Winthrop was able to argue that combining America’s cheap raw materials with England’s capital would produce a product that could be sold at a profit, not only in Massachusetts but in England as well.
Winthrop called the new company the Company of Undertakers—note the word, the literal translation of “entrepreneur”—to which the government of Massachusetts granted a 21-year monopoly on iron production, an exemption from taxation, and the right to export iron once local demand was met. (Obviously, cozy relations between government and industry is not wholly a recent phenomenon.) The Saugus Iron Works, as it is known, was a financial failure, as so many first attempts are. But it is now a national historic site—and well it should be, for it was the start of a great American industry.

Inventors and Captains of Industry

CarnegieBy the end of the colonial era, the colonies were producing one-seventh of the world’s pig iron. A little over 100 years later, the U.S. was producing more iron and steel than Britain and Germany combined, and producing them so efficiently that we were an exporter to those countries. Much of that iron and steel was manufactured by Andrew Carnegie, who had arrived in America a penniless immigrant from Scotland in the 1840s. When he sold out to J. P. Morgan in 1901, Morgan congratulated him on becoming “the richest man in the world.”
The Saugus Iron Works was contemporaneous with the beginning of one of the handmaidens of American entrepreneurship, American invention. The first patent awarded to an American resident was given to Joseph Jenks in 1646 for a device that improved the manufacture of edged tools, such as sickles.

It was the beginning of the “Yankee ingenuity” that has characterized America’s economy ever since

Vanderbilt_(steamboat)It was the beginning of the “Yankee ingenuity” that has characterized America’s economy ever since, from that first machine tool to bifocal glasses, the cotton gin, automated flour mills, the high-pressure steam engine, interchangeable parts, the McCormick reaper, the oil industry, the airplane, Coca-Cola, the affordable automobile, the digital computer, and Twitter. For an example of how great a synergistic effect entrepreneurship and invention have had on each other, consider that when Twitter went public last year, the stock offering produced no fewer than 1,600 newly-minted millionaires.

By the time the 13 colonies declared independence, they were, after only 169 years, the richest place on earth per capita.

No wonder the British fought so hard to suppress the rebellion. While statistics from the late 18th century can be scarce—the very word “statistics” wouldn’t be coined until the early 19th century—there is one powerful statistic indicating just how much better off Americans were than their British cousins: Soldiers in the Continental Army were, on average, a full two inches taller than their British counterparts.

Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations

adamsmithwlthofnationsAdam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations was published the same year as independence was declared. Being very young, America did not have the burden of hundreds of years of economic cronyism. There were no aristocrats, no guilds, no ancient monopolies or hereditary tariffs as there were in continental Europe. And therefore Karl Marx was wrong, at least about America, when he wrote, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered and transmitted from the past.” We had less past than any other country, and therefore we could make our own history, creating the most Smithian economy in the western world. To be sure, it was not purely Smithian. People in government will always try to help those who are powerful at the expense of those who might become so. But the U.S. has consistently come closer to the Smithian ideal, over a longer period of time, than any other major nation.

Nothing encourages entrepreneurial activity more than the freedom to take risk.

Consider one of my favorite early American entrepreneurs, Frederic Tudor. In 1806, he decided to sell ice. He wanted to get it where it was cheap, New England, and sell it where it was dear, the Southern states and the West Indies. Everyone laughed. But his secret was a waste product that a great New England industry was more than happy to supply him with for free—sawdust, an excellent insulator. So Tudor combined two cheap things and made them valuable simply by moving their location. By 1820 he was shipping 2,000 tons of ice a year to as far away as Calcutta, getting as much as 25 cents a pound. By 1850, ice was one of New England’s largest exports. By 1900, of course, the trade was dead, thanks to the invention of refrigeration. We call that creative destruction.

A second great spur to entrepreneurship is the freedom to fail. And no country in the world has been as consistently tolerant of economic failure as the United States.

While bankruptcy in Europe has always been regarded as a moral as well as a financial failure, this has not been the case here—possibly because we are descendants of people who sought a second chance by immigrating. There were, to be sure, debtors prisons in colonial and early America, and some very distinguished people spent time in them—including James Wilson, one of the first justices of the Supreme Court. But debtors prison, a remarkably counter-productive institution—after all, how do you pay off your debts while you’re cooling your heels in jail?—was abandoned in the U.S. earlier than elsewhere. It ended under federal law in 1833, and most states had followed suit by 1850. Great Britain wouldn’t abolish debtors prison until 1869.

Standard Oil

As a result of this freedom to fail without suffering social opprobrium, many entrepreneurs were able on their second or third try to strike it rich.

Rockefeller-senConsider Henry Flagler, who began his business career in the wholesale commodity business and prospered so well that he was making a then vast income of about $50,000 a year by the time of the Civil War. When the war drove the price of salt through the roof, Flagler invested heavily in a salt company in Michigan. When the war ended, however, the price of salt collapsed, as did the business. Flagler, who had risen from the son of an itinerant preacher to the “one percent,” was broke. He had to borrow money from his father-in-law—at ten percent interest, no less—in order to feed and house his family. But only five years later, Flagler was a founding partner of Standard Oil, with one-sixth of the company. Later, after running Standard Oil became a matter of management rather than entrepreneurship, Flagler used his Standard Oil millions to create the modern state of Florida, turning it from a semi-tropical wilderness into a tourist mecca and agricultural powerhouse. No American had as much influence on the shaping of a state as Henry Flagler had on Florida, except perhaps Brigham Young in Utah.

Singer Sewing Machine

Or consider Isaac Merritt Singer. He was on his own by the time he was 12, and only basically literate—a character straight out of Dickens. At 19 he obtained an apprenticeship in a machine shop and soon demonstrated a marked talent for mechanics. Unfortunately for Singer, he wanted to be an actor—a profession for which he had little talent. Singer tinkered on the side and invented a rock drill, but he was so desperate for money that he sold the patent for a mere $2,000. Only when he gave up acting in middle age did he turn his attention full time to mechanics, and soon after that he invented a new kind of sewing machine that had a great advantage over previous kinds: It actually worked. Once the patent situation was settled—it was the first use of what is now a standard model for dealing with complex inventions to which many people contribute pieces, the patent pool—he made a vast fortune, as the sewing machine revolutionized, and industrialized, the clothing industry.
It’s not hard to see why: A shirt that took a seamstress 14 hours to sew by hand could now be produced in an hour-and-a-quarter. Many clothing workers feared for their livelihoods. But of course the effect of the sewing machine was to enlarge their business, not destroy it.

capitalismAs the price of ready-made clothes dropped, the increasing market for them made up for the lower price many times over. This is one of the fundamental means by which capitalism has made the world a richer place for everyone.

By the time of Isaac Singer’s death in 1875, the American economy was being transformed by the emergence of giant corporations, with tens of thousands of employees and thousands of stockholders. Lagging far behind were the rules needed for such an economy to operate for the benefit of all. Many thought a plutocracy threatened, and plutocracy threatens a country’s entrepreneurial spirit quite as much as an overbearing government—especially if the plutocrats and politicians get together, as they are wont to do in their mutual, if short-term, self-interest. This, of course, is the very essence of crony capitalism that has kept so many countries poor and could threaten this country’s prosperity.
Standard Oil was able to muscle many small operators into selling out by threatening ruin if they did not. Standard’s relationship with the railroads allowed them to ship much more cheaply than the smaller refiners, and it often received an under-the-table kickback on the oil the small operators did ship. Standard would always offer what it regarded as a fair price, but it was “take it or leave it”—and leaving it was usually not an option.
The lack of rules sometimes led to theft of the stockholders’ investments in all but name. In earlier times, an organization’s managers were almost always owners as well, and thus had an identity of interest with the owners. But as capital requirements rose, managers often came to be, at best, small shareholders. So the self-interest of management and that of shareholders diverged.

Federal Government Tries the Railroad, and Fails

VanderbilttrainsThe Union Pacific Railroad, for instance, was chartered by the federal government to build part of the transcontinental railroad. The newly installed management organized a construction company owned by themselves, gave it a fancy French name, Crédit Mobilier, and hired themselves to build the railroad. And guess what? They overcharged. To make sure Congress didn’t make trouble, they cut key members in on the deal, allowing them to pay for Crédit Mobilier stock using the enormous quarterly dividends—often 100 percent of par value—that they were paid. The result was a bankrupt railroad that had been shoddily constructed.

Wall Street Reforms

wallstreetManagers also did not have to make regular reports to their stockholders in most cases and, even when they did, could keep the books as they pleased. Wall Street, with a powerful interest in knowing the truth about the corporations whose securities were traded and underwritten there, began imposing regular accounting rules and quarterly, audited reports. The result was a far more honest capital market, where entrepreneurs could come in search of financing with the certainty that they would be treated fairly and have their risk-taking properly rewarded if the idea was a success. That was a huge spur to entrepreneurship.

Government Regulations

Government also sought to police the marketplace, but with far less success than Wall Street. Railroads were brought under a federal regulatory regime that quickly evolved into a cartel called the Interstate Commerce Commission. Trucking came under its control in the 1930s and airlines were regulated by their own cartel, the Civil Aeronautics Board. Cartels and monopolies, of course, prevent competition and thus entrepreneurship. That, in turn, prevents the creative destruction that is so vital to capitalism.
After the ICC and CAB lost their rate-setting and route-allocating powers in the late 1970s, transportation costs—a transaction cost—dropped from 15 percent of GDP to only ten percent, allowing lower prices for almost all goods. At the same time, innovation flourished. Old legacy airlines, unable to compete in the new environment, disappeared. New airlines with new strategies, such as Southwest and Jet Blue, emerged. Entrepreneurship returned to transportation from where it had long been absent.

With the birth of the digital age, there has been a new golden age of entrepreneurship.

Thousands of new niches have become available to exploit, many of which can be exploited very cheaply. The result has been the greatest inflorescence of fortune-making—and fortune-making usually implies entrepreneurship—in human history. In 1982 it took $82 million to have a place on the Forbes list. Today it takes over $1.3 billion.

The opportunities for people with ideas and a willingness to take risks are plentiful in America.

wealthprivatesectorThe opportunities for people with ideas and a willingness to take risks are plentiful in America, and there is plenty of capital available to bring those ideas to life. On top of that, mechanisms to bring ideas and capital together are more robust than they have been in the past. So the future of entrepreneurship in this most entrepreneurial of countries remains bright. The only fear is that an overbearing government, bent on managing the American economy—supposedly for the good of all, but actually for the benefit of bureaucrats and politicians—will strangle the goose that has laid so many golden eggs. That is always a danger, for government is just as subject to the law of self-interest as the marketplace. Unfortunately, the process of creative destruction is far less vigorous in government, which is a monopoly by its nature.
On the other hand, government regularly displays an incompetence so extraordinary that reform becomes possible.
We are witnessing such a display now with the launch of Obamacare. Obamacare, of course, seeks to rid one-sixth of the American economy of even a vestige of entrepreneurship and turn it over to the public sector.
I’m always an optimist, so I think good things will come out of this. Let us hope so.

________________________________________
Copyright © 2014 Hillsdale College. The opinions expressed in Imprimis are not necessarily the views of Hillsdale College.

Hillsdale College: Education for Liberty

Dinner Topics for Tuesday

A Rebirth of Liberty and Learning

keyoldThe word “education” comes from a Latin word meaning “to lead forth.”

Larry P. Arnn
President, Hillsdale College

“Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.”

There is a proper way to educate and there is a proper way to govern, and they are both known. Today we do these things in a different way, which presents a serious and perhaps fatal problem for our country. But repair is possible.

Take education first. The word “education” comes from a Latin word meaning “to lead forth.” And if you think about it, “forth” is a value-laden term. Which way is forth? The Bible tells us to “raise up a child in the way he should go.” But which way should he go? How does one come to know the answer to that? After almost 14 years as a college president I’m an expert on young people between 18 and 22, and I can tell you that if you ask a young person today which way is the right way to go, more often than not he or she will answer: “It depends on which way you want to go.” Young people today give that answer because they’ve been taught to give that answer. But it’s the wrong answer, and the activity of getting from there to the right answer—the activity of coming to know which way is the right way—is education. Thus “to lead forth.”

Two Ways of Education 

platoinlibraryAt Hillsdale College students read a lot of old books, including Plato’s Republic. In the Republic they read the story of Gyges’ ring—a ring that makes the wearer of it invisible. One of Socrates’ interlocutors in the Republic, a young man named Glaucon, raises the question: Why would a man in possession of such a ring not use it to do and obtain whatever he wishes? Why would he not use the ring’s powers, for instance, to become a tyrant? In response, Socrates turns the discussion to another question: What is the right way for a man to live? What is just by nature and what is unjust?

These Socratic questions were once at the center or core of education, and they remain at the center or core of education at Hillsdale College. But in American education as a whole, these questions have been abandoned.

platobookLet me give you two examples of how the new way of education differs from the old. One concerns the use of the word I just used—“core.” Here at Hillsdale we have a core curriculum—a thing most American colleges and universities have watered down or done away with—which is a core group of courses that all students, regardless of their major, are required to take. A true core, as I’ve described, has a unifying principle, such as the idea that there is a right way to live that one can come to know.

Compare that to the use of the same word in describing the latest bright idea of the education establishment—the so-called Common-Core—which is an attempt by bureaucrats and politicians to impose national standards on American schools. When one looks into Common-Core, it becomes clear that it has no unifying principle in the sense I have described. And it has destructive effects. But the point I want to make here is that its only stated object is career preparation.

Bereft of the kind of questions posed by Socrates in the Republic—or the kind of questions raised in the Bible, or in the plays of Shakespeare—modern education treats students chiefly as factors of production, as people to be trained for productive jobs. And although we all wish productive jobs for our children, as parents we know that they are not chiefly job seekers or factors of production. After all, how many of us, if we were given the choice of our children earning a lot of money and being bad, or struggling economically and being good, would choose the former?

My second example of the turn taken by modern education goes to the heart of the problem. Here is a passage from the Teacher’s Guide for Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition, published in 1991 by the College Board—the influential organization that, among other things, administers the SAT exam. It is written by an English professor from Agnes Scott College in Georgia.

. . . AP teachers are implementing the best of the new pedagogies that have influenced leading institutions of higher learning. Perhaps most importantly, as Arthur Applebee explains, “objectivity” and “factuality” have lost their preeminence. Instruction has become “less a matter of transmittal of an objective and culturally sanctioned body of knowledge,” and more a matter of helping individuals learn to construct their own realities. This moves English courses away from the concept of subject matter to be memorized and toward “a body of knowledge, skills, and strategies that must be constructed by the learner out of experiences and interactions within the social context of the classroom.” Emphasis is on the processes of language and thought, “processes that are shaped by a given cultural community and which also help students become part of the cultural community.” Contemporary educators no doubt hope students will shape values and ethical systems as they engage in these interactions, acquiring principles that will help them live in a mad, mad world (emphases added).

Could the difference be more stark between the older and newer ways of education? Between leading students toward an understanding of the right way to live in a comprehensible world, and telling them they must shape their own values and make their own reality in a world gone mad? And by the way, think of the definition of “reality”; then think of making one’s own reality. Do you see that it destroys the meaning of the word to use it that way? 

Two Ways of Governing

The difference between the old and the new way of governing is directly connected to this turn in education. One way to see the difference is to see that laws in America used to be simple and beautiful. They were written with care, and citizens could read them quickly and understand their meaning. Of the four organic laws that founded America—the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Northwest Ordinance, and the Constitution of the United States—none of them was more than 4,500 words long.

The Northwest Ordinance, adopted in 1787 and passed again in 1789, contains the following beautiful sentence: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary for good government and the happiness of mankind, the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” Accordingly, Congress proceeded to give 1/36 of the land in the vast Northwest Territory—including Michigan and four other states—as an endowment, controlled by the states, to support education in each township. One of the finest laws written subsequently was the Homestead Act of 1862, by which ten percent of U.S. land—over 270 million acres—passed into the hands of individual citizens. The Homestead Act was 1,320 words in length.

Compare the Northwest Ordinance and the Homestead Act—perfect examples of the older, constitutional way of governing—with the new bureaucratic way of imposing central control through rules and processes that no one can understand. Compare them, for instance, to the Affordable Care Act, which when it was passed in 2010—and this does not include the countless rules and regulations it has generated over the past three years—ran to 363,086 words. This law—and in the true sense of the word it wasn’t a law at all, but something different—was not readable or comprehensible to any member of Congress who voted for it or to the citizens whose lives it was aimed at manipulating in a detailed and intrusive way. Could anything be uglier? And is it surprising, being governed in this way, that the richest nation in human history is going broke?

Let me mention two characteristics and dangers of the new way of governing. First, if you look at the size of the federal budget, you see that in economic terms the government is beginning to rival in size the rest of the country. Less and less do we have a large and thriving private sectorwhich is where the Constitution placed sovereignty—in control of a limited government that owes its authority to the governed.

That the Constitution placed sovereignty in the people, outside the government, means that the only way the people can maintain their sovereignty—the only way they can control the government—is through elections of representatives. But as the government becomes almost as big, in economic terms, as those who elect it, the government itself— with its clients and friends—becomes increasingly influential in the electoral process, while people who make their living independent of the government become less influential. This trend could prove fatal to our country, because at some point if it continues—and we can already see the beginnings with attempts to regulate political speechthe idea of free elections will become problematic.

My final point is that this new way of governing actively opposes America’s founding principles. Consider an example from the College’s recent history: What could more directly contradict America’s bedrock principle of human equality than the attempt by bureaucrats at the Department of Education to force Hillsdale, whose charter prohibited racial discrimination long before the Civil War, to count its students by the color of their skin?

James Madison is known as the Father of the Constitution, and when he suggested in the Federalist Papers that the Constitution receives its authority from the principles of the Declaration of Independence, he was expressing what was then the common view. Here is the famous statement of those principles:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government . . . .

Compare that confident statement of principles to this passage from President Obama’s 2006 book The Audacity of Hope:

Implicit in [the Constitution’s] structure, in the very idea of ordered liberty, was a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or “ism,” any tyrannical consistency that might lock future generations into a single, unalterable course . . . (emphasis added).

impeach4constHow did Barack Obama come to believe something so foreign to America’s heritage as the idea that in the name of liberty we must reject absolute truths—which necessarily includes rejecting those truths I just quoted from the Declaration? And how is it—because this is a bipartisan problem—that not once in the course of two long presidential campaigns did an opponent of Barack Obama think to point out his unequivocal disagreement with the principles we celebrate as a nation on the Fourth of July? 

Do you recall what I said about the connection between the new way of education and the new way of governing? Given what is now taught in our schools, is it any wonder that our leaders today behave like wearers of Gyges’ ring who have not given thought to the questions raised by Socrates in the Republic, or to the connection between the principles of the Declaration of Independence and civil and religious liberty?

The means of repairing both education and government today is the activity that takes place at Hillsdale College. Through its undergraduate and graduate programs, its Kirby Center in Washington, D.C., its extensive online learning program, its charter school initiative, its multiple outreach activities, and its publications such as Imprimis, Hillsdale seeks to radiate that activity to every corner of the nation in every possible way. This is the work needed to save our country, and it is the purpose of Hillsdale’s “Rebirth of Liberty and Learning Campaign.”

Gallery

Hillsdale College: Children’s Literature and Good vs. Evil

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Dinner Topics for Friday The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Books Let me close with Saint Paul the Apostle in Philippians 4:8: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is … Continue reading

Economy: Liberty vs. Socialism

Dinner Topics for Wednesday

The Miracle of Freedom

Senator Ted Cruz speaking at Hillsdale College graduation

The political left in our country seeks to reach down the hand of government and move people up the economic ladder.[Socialism] This attempt is almost always driven by noble intentions. And yet it never, ever works. Conservatives, in contrast, understand from experience that the only way to help people climb the economic ladder is to provide them the opportunity to pull themselves up one rung at a time.

tedcruzToday the U.S. dollar is the international reserve currency. English is the world’s standard language for commerce. The strength of our economy allows us to maintain the mightiest military in the world. And U.S. culture—film, TV, the Internet—is preeminent in the world (although for many of our TV shows and movies, perhaps we owe the world an apology). A disproportionate number of the world’s great inventions in medicine, pharmaceuticals, electronics, the Internet, and other technology come from America, improving, expanding, and saving lives. America was where the telephone, the automobile, the airplane, and the iPhone were invented. Americans were the first to walk on the moon.

But most importantly, freedom produces opportunity. And I would encourage each of you to embrace what I call opportunity conservatism, which means that we should look at and judge every proposed domestic policy with a laser focus on how it impacts the least among us—how it helps the most vulnerable Americans climb the economic ladder.

The political left in our country seeks to reach down the hand of government and move people up the economic ladder. This attempt is almost always driven by noble intentions. And yet it never, ever works. Conservatives, in contrast, understand from experience that the only way to help people climb the economic ladder is to provide them the opportunity to pull themselves up one rung at a time.

As President Reagan said, “How can we love our country and not love our countrymen, and loving them, reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when they’re sick, and provide opportunity to make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory?”

Historically, our nation has enjoyed remarkable economic mobility. About 60 percent of the households that were in the lowest income quintile in 1999 were in a higher quintile ten years later. During the same decade, almost 40 percent of the richest households fell to a lower quintile. This is a nation where you can rise or fall. It is a nation where you can climb the economic ladder based not on who you are born to, or what class you are born into, but based on your talents, your passion, your perseverance, and the content of your character.

Economic freedom and the prosperity it generates reduce poverty like nothing else. Studies consistently confirm that countries with higher levels of economic freedom have poverty levels as much as 75 percent lower than countries that are less free.

Thanks to America’s free market system, the average poor American has more living space than the typical non‑poor person in Sweden, France, or the United Kingdom. In 1970, the year I was born, only 36 percent of the U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning. Today, 80 percent of poor households in America have air conditioning; and 96 percent of poor parents say that their children were never hungry at any time in the preceding year because they could not afford food.

Now, of course, there is still need in America and throughout the world, and all of us should act to help our fellow man. But more and more government is not the way to do this. To insist otherwise is to ignore the fact that all major European nations have higher levels of public spending than the United States, and that all of them are poorer.

Nor are human beings happiest when they’re taken care of by the state. Indeed, areas under the yoke of dependency on government are among the least joyous parts of our society. The story of Julia that we saw depicted in last year’s election—the story of cradle-to-grave dependency on government—is not an attractive utopia. Men and women flourish, instead, when afforded the equal opportunity to work and create and accomplish.

I remember some time ago when former Texas Senator Phil Gramm was participating in a Senate hearing on socialized medicine, and the witness there explained that government would best take care of people. Senator Gramm gently demurred and said, “I care more about my family than anyone else does.” And this wide-eyed witness said, “Oh no, Senator. I care as much about your children.” Senator Gramm smiled and said, “Really? What are their names?”

* * *

It is precisely because economic freedom and opportunity outperform centralized planning and regulation that so many millions have risked everything for a chance at the American dream.

Fifty-five years ago, my father fled Cuba, where he had been imprisoned and tortured—including having his teeth kicked out—as a teenager. Today my father is a pastor in Dallas. When he landed in Austin, Texas, in 1957, he was 18. He couldn’t speak a word of English. He had $100 sewn into his underwear. He went and got a job washing dishes and made 50 cents an hour. He worked seven days a week and paid his way through the University of Texas, and then he got a job, and then he went on to start a small business.

Now imagine if, at that time, the minimum wage had been two dollars an hour. He might never have had the opportunity to get that dishwashing job and work his way through school and work his way up from there. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve thanked God that some well-meaning liberal didn’t greet him when he landed in Austin and put his arm around him and say: “Let me take care of you. Let me make you dependent on government. Let me sap your self-respect—and by the way, don’t bother learning English.”

When I was a kid, my father used to say to me: “When we faced oppression in Cuba, I had a place to flee to. If we lose our freedom here, where do we go?” For my entire life, my dad has been my hero. But what I find most incredible about his story is how commonplace it is. Every one of us here today has a story like that. We could line up at this podium and each of us tell the story of our parents or grandparents or our great, great, great grandparents. We are all children of those who risked everything for liberty. That’s the DNA of what it means to be an American—to value freedom and opportunity above all.

In 1976, Margaret Thatcher delivered her “Britain Awake” speech. In it, she said: “There are moments in our history when we have to make a fundamental choice. This is one such moment, a moment when our choice will determine the life or death of our kind of society and the future of our children. Let’s ensure that our children will have cause to rejoice that we did not forsake their freedom.”

If we don’t fight to preserve our liberty, we will lose it. The men and women graduating here today, blessed with a world-class liberal arts education and a Hillsdale love of learning, are perfectly situated to lead the fight, to tell and retell the story of the miracle of freedom to so many Americans—so many young Americans in particular—who’ve never heard that story from the media, or in their schools, and certainly not from Hollywood.

Mrs. Thatcher continued: “Of course, this places a burden on us, but it is one that we must be willing to bear if we want our freedom to survive.”

Throughout history, we have carried the torch for freedom. At Hillsdale, you have been prepared to continue to do so, that together we may ensure that America remains a shining city on a hill, a beacon to the world of hope and freedom and opportunity.

Thank you and God bless you.

Read more about Ted Cruz speech at Hillsdale College

 

Christianity, Supreme Court, and Freedom of Religion

Dinner Topics for Thursday

 

Religion and Public Life in America

Right now the Nones seem to have the upper hand in America. But what seems powerful is not always so. If I had to bet on Harvard or the Catholic Church, Yale or the Mennonites in Goshen, Indiana, the New York Times or yeshivas in Brooklyn, I wouldn’t hesitate. Over the long haul, religious faith has proven itself the most powerful and enduring force in human history.

There is another, deeper argument that must be made in defense of religion: It is the most secure guarantee of freedom. ~R.R. Reno

From Hillsdale College Imprimis

Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College

R. R. RENO is the editor of First Things, a journal of religion in public life. He received his B.A. from Haverford College and his Ph.D. in religious studies from Yale University, and taught theology and ethics at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, for 20 years. He is the author of Fighting the Noonday Devil, Sanctified Vision, and a commentary on the Book of Genesis, as well as a number of other books and essays.

The following is adapted from a speech delivered on February 20, 2013, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar in Bonita Springs, Florida.

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY is being redefined in America, or at least many would like it to be. Our secular establishment wants to reduce the autonomy of religious institutions and limit the influence of faith in the public square. The reason is not hard to grasp. In America, “religion” largely means Christianity, and today our secular culture views orthodox Christian churches as troublesome, retrograde, and reactionary forces. They’re seen as anti-science, anti-gay, and anti-women—which is to say anti-progress as the Left defines progress. Not surprisingly, then, the Left believes society will be best served if Christians are limited in their influence on public life. And in the short run this view is likely to succeed. There will be many arguments urging Christians to keep their religion strictly religious rather than “political.” And there won’t just be arguments; there will be laws as well. We’re in the midst of climate change—one that’s getting colder and colder toward religion.

justice gavelRecent court cases and controversies suggest trends unfriendly to religion in public life. In 2005, a former teacher at Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in Redford, Michigan, filed an employment lawsuit claiming discrimination based on disability. The school fired her for violating St. Paul’s teaching that Christians should not bring their disputes before secular judges. The subsequent lawsuit revolved around the question of whether a religious school could invoke a religious principle to justify firing an employee. The school said it could, drawing on a legal doctrine known as the ministerial exception, which allows religious institutions wide latitude in hiring and firing their religious leaders. It’s in the nature of legal arguments to be complex and multi-layered, but in this case the Obama administration’s lawyers made a shockingly blunt argument: Their brief claimed that there should be no ministerial exception.

The Supreme Court rejected this argument in a unanimous 9-0 vote. But it’s telling nonetheless that lawyers in the Justice Department wanted to eliminate this exception. Their argument was straightforward: Government needs to have broad powers to address the problem of discrimination—in this case disability—as well as other injustices. Conceding too much to religious institutions limits those powers. Why should the theological doctrines of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, or of any other church, trump the legal doctrines of the United States when the important principle of non-discrimination is at stake? It is an arresting question, to say the least—especially when we remember that the Left is currently pushing to add gay marriage to the list of civil rights.

Concerns about the autonomy of religious institutions are also at work in the Obama administration’s tussle with the Catholic Church and her religious allies over the mandate to provide free contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. After the initial public outcry, the administration announced a supposed compromise, which has been recently revised and re-proposed. The Obama administration allows that churches and organizations directly under the control of those churches are religious employers and can opt out of the morally controversial coverage. But religious colleges and charities are not and cannot. To them, the administration offers a so-called accommodation.

The details are complex, but a recent statement issued by Cardinal Dolan of New York identifies the key issue: Who counts as a religious employer? It’s a question closely related to the issue in the Hosanna-Tabor case, which asks who counts as a religious employee. Once again the Obama administration seeks a narrow definition, “accommodating” others in an act of lèse majesté, as it were. The Catholic Church and her allies want a broad definition that includes Catholic health care, Catholic universities, and Catholic charities. The Church knows that it cannot count on accommodations—after all, when various states such as Illinois passed laws allowing gay adoptions, they did not “accommodate” Catholic charities, but instead demanded compliance with principles of non-discrimination, forcing the Church to shut down her adoption agencies in those jurisdictions.

Cardinal Dolan’s statement went still further. For-profit companies are not religious in the way that Notre Dame University is religious. Nonetheless, the religious beliefs of those who own and run businesses in America should be accorded some protection. This idea the Obama administration flatly rejects. By their progressive way of thinking, economic life should be under the full and unlimited control of the federal government.

Religious liberty is undermined in a third and different way as well. For a long time, political theorists like John Rawls have argued that our laws must be based on so-called public reason, which is in fact an ambiguous, ill-defined concept that gives privileged status to liberalism. In 2010, Federal District Court Judge Vaughn Walker overturned Proposition 8—the ballot measure that reversed the California Supreme Court’s 2006 decision that homosexuals have a right to marry—citing the lack of a rational basis for thinking that only men and women can marry. “The evidence shows conclusively,” he wrote, “that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples.” He continues by observing that many supporters of Proposition 8 were motivated by their religious convictions, which—following Rawls—he presumes should not be allowed to govern public law.

This line of thinking is not unique to Judge Walker. The influence of Rawls has been extensive, leading to restrictions on the use of religious reasons or even religiously-influenced reasons in public debate. In striking down Texas sodomy laws, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that moral censure of homosexuality has “been shaped by religious beliefs.” The idea seems to be that moral views historically supported by religion—which of course means all moral views other than modern secular ones—are constitutionally suspect.

Here we come to the unifying feature of contemporary challenges to religious freedom—the desire to limit the influence of religion over public life. In the world envisioned by Obama administration lawyers, churches will have freedom as “houses of worship,” but unless they accept the secular consensus they can’t inspire their adherents to form institutions to educate and serve society in accordance with the principles of their faith. Under a legal regime influenced by the concept of public reason, religious people are free to speak—but when their voices contradict the secular consensus, they’re not allowed into our legislative chambers or courtrooms.

Thus our present clashes over religious liberty. The Constitution protects religious liberty in two ways. First, it prohibits laws establishing a religion. This prevents the dominant religion from using the political power of majority rule to privilege its own doctrines to the disadvantage of others. Second, it prohibits laws that limit the free exercise of religion. What we’re seeing today is a secular liberalism that wants to expand the prohibition of establishment to silence articulate religious voices and disenfranchise religiously motivated voters, and at the same time to narrow the scope of free exercise so that the new secular morality can reign over American society unimpeded.

Rise of the Nones
This shift in legal thinking on the Left reflects underlying religious trends. As the religious character of our society changes, so do our assumptions about religious freedom. The main change has been the rise of the Nones. In the 1950s, around three percent of Americans checked the “none” box when asked about their religious affiliation. That number has grown, especially in the last decade, to 20 percent of the population. And Nones are heavily represented in elite culture. A great deal of higher education is dominated by Nones, as are important cultural institutions, the media, and Hollywood. They are conscious of their power, and they feel the momentum of their growth.

At the same time, the number of Americans who say they go to church every week has remained strikingly constant over the last 50 years, at around 35 percent. Sociologists of religion think this self-reported number is higher than the actual one, which may be closer to 25 percent. In any event, the social reality is the same. As the Nones have emerged as a significant cohort, the committed core of religious people has not declined and in fact has become unified and increasingly battle tested. Protestants and Catholics alike know they’re up against an often hostile secular culture—and although a far smaller portion of the population, the same holds for Jews and Muslims as well.

These two trends—the rise of the Nones and the consolidation of the committed core of believers—have led to friction in public life. The Nones and religious Americans collide culturally and politically, not just theologically.

For a long time, the press has reported on the influence of religious voters, especially Evangelicals. Polling data shows that religiosity has become increasingly reliable as a predictor of political loyalties. But what’s far less commonly reported is that this goes both ways. In their recent book, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, Robert Putnam and William Campbell focused on the practice of saying grace before meals as an indication of religious commitment and found a striking correlation. Seventy percent of those who never say grace before meals identify as Democrats, compared to slightly more than 20 percent who identify as Republicans. Nones are extremely ideological. Meanwhile, among those who say grace daily, 40 percent identify as Democrats and 50 percent as Republicans. Religious people are more diverse, but they trend to the political right, and the more religious they are the more likely they are to vote Republican.

Other data also suggests a growing divide between the irreligious and religious. A recent Pew study confirms that Nones are the single most ideologically committed cohort of white Americans, rivaled only by Evangelical Protestants. They overwhelmingly support abortion and gay marriage. Seventy-five percent of them voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and they played a decisive role in his victory in 2012. In Ohio, Obama lost the Protestant vote by three percent and the Catholic vote by eleven percent—and both numbers rise if we isolate Protestants and Catholics who say they go to church every week. But he won the Nones, who make up 12 percent of the electorate in Ohio, by an astounding 47 percent.

I think it’s fair to say that Obama ran a values campaign last fall that gambled that the Nones would cast the decisive votes. For the first time in American political history, the winning party deliberately attacked religion. Its national convention famously struck God from the platform, only to have it restored by anxious party leaders in a comical session characterized by the kind of frivolity that comes when people recognize that it doesn’t really matter. Democratic talking points included the “war on women” and other well-crafted slogans that rallied their base, the Nones, who at 24 percent of all Democrat and Democratic-leaning voters have become the single largest identifiable cohort in the liberal coalition.

This presents the deepest threat to religious liberty today. It’s not good when the most numerous and powerful constituency in the Democratic Party has no time for religion. This is all the more true when its ideology has the effect of encouraging the rest of the party to view religion—especially Christianity—as the enemy; and when law professors provide reasons why the Constitution doesn’t protect religious people.

Religious Liberty Under the Gun
From the end of the Civil War until the 1960s, the wealthiest, best educated, and most powerful Americans remained largely loyal to Christianity. That’s changed. There were warning signs. William F. Buckley, Jr. chronicled how Yale in the early ’50s could no longer support even the bland religiosity of liberal Protestantism. Today, Yale and other elite institutions can be relied upon to provide anti-Christian propaganda. Stephen Pinker and Stephen Greenblatt at Harvard publish books that show how Christianity pretty much ruins everything, as Christopher Hitchens put it so bluntly. The major presses publish book after book by scholars like Elaine Pagels at Princeton, who argues that Christianity is for the most part an invention of power hungry bishops who suppressed the genuine diversity and spiritual richness of early followers of Jesus.

One can dispute the accuracy of the books, articles, and lectures of these and other authors. This is necessary, but unlikely to be effective. Experts savaged Greenblatt’s book on Lucretius, The Swerve, but it won the National Book Award for non-fiction. That’s not an accident. Greenblatt and others at elite universities are serving an important ideological purpose by using their academic authority to discredit Christianity, whose adherents are obstacles not only to abortion and gay rights, but to medical research unrestricted by moral concerns about the use of fetal tissue, to new reproductive technologies, to doctor-assisted suicide, and in general to liquefying traditional moral limits so that they can be reconstructed according to the desires of the Nones. Books by these elite academics reassure the Nones and their fellow travelers that they are not opposed to anything good or even respectable, but rather to historic forms of oppression, ignorance, and prejudice.

I cannot overstate the importance of these ideological attacks on Christianity. Our Constitution accords us rights, and the courts cannot void these rights willy-nilly. But history shows that the Constitution is a plastic document. When our elite culture thinks something is bad for society as a whole, judges find ways to suppress it. The First Amendment offered no protection to Bob Jones University, which lost its tax-exempt status because of a policy that prohibited inter-racial dating. As the Supreme Court majority in 1983 wrote in that case: “Government has a fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education . . . which substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on [the University’s] exercise of their religious beliefs.”

In recent years the Supreme Court has been largely solicitous of religious freedom, sensing perhaps that our cultural conflicts over religion and morality need to be kept within bounds. But the law professors are preparing the way for changes. Martha Nussbaum, who teaches at the University of Chicago Law School, has opined that the colleges and universities run by Catholic religious orders that require their presidents or other leaders to be members of the order should lose their tax exempt status, because they discriminate against women. She allows that current interpretations of the First Amendment don’t support her view, but that’s not much comfort. All Nussbaum is doing is applying the logic of the Bob Jones case to the feminist project of eradicating discrimination based on sex.

persecutingchristiansFormer Georgetown law professor Chai Feldblum—who is also a current Obama appointee to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—has written about the coming conflicts between gay rights and religious liberty. With an admirable frankness she admits, “I’m having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.” Again, the Bob Jones case is in the background, as are other aspects of civil rights law designed to stamp out racial discrimination. For someone like Feldblum, when religious individuals and institutions don’t conform to the new consensus about sexual morality, their freedoms should be limited.

It is precisely the possibilities evoked by Nussbaum and Feldblum that now motivate the Obama administration’s intransigence about allowing places like Notre Dame to be classified as religious employers. In the Bob Jones case, the justices were very careful to stipulate that “churches or other purely religious institutions” remain protected by the First Amendment’s principle of free exercise. By “accommodating” rather than counting Notre Dame and other educational and charitable organizations as religious employers, secular liberalism can target them in the future, as they have done to Catholic adoption agencies that won’t place children with homosexual couples.

A recent book by University of Chicago professor of philosophy and law Brian Leiter outlines what I believe will become the theoretical consensus that does away with religious liberty in spirit if not in letter. “There is no principled reason,” he writes, “for legal or constitutional regimes to single out religion for protection.” Leiter describes religious belief as a uniquely bad combination of moral fervor and mental blindness, serving no public good that justifies special protection. More significantly—and this is Leiter’s main thesis—it is patently unfair to afford religion such protection. Why should a Catholic or a Baptist have a special right while Peter Singer, a committed utilitarian, does not? Evoking the principle of fairness, Leiter argues that everybody’s conscience should be accorded the same legal protections. Thus he proposes to replace religious liberty with a plenary “liberty of conscience.”

Leiter’s argument is libertarian. He wants to get the government out of the business of deciding whose conscience is worth protecting. This mentality seems to expand freedom, but that’s an illusion. In practice it will lead to diminished freedom, as is always the case with any thoroughgoing libertarianism.

Let me give an example. The urban high school my son attended strictly prohibits hats and headgear. It does so in order to keep gang-related symbols and regalia out of the school. However, the school recognizes a special right of religious freedom, and my son, whose mother is Jewish and who was raised as a Jew, was permitted to wear a yarmulke. Leiter’s argument prohibits this special right, but his alternative is unworkable. The gang members could claim that their deep commitments of loyalty to each other create a conscientious duty to wear gang regalia. If everybody’s conscience must be respected, then nobody’s will be, for order and safety must be preserved.

* * *

The Arabic word dhimmi means non-Muslim. Under Muslim rule, non-Muslims were allowed to survive only insofar as they accepted Muslim dominance. Our times are not those times, and the secularism of the Nones is not Islam. Nevertheless, I think many powerful forces in America would like to impose a soft but real dhimmitude. The liberal and libertarian Nones will quarrel, as do the Shi’a and Sunni, but they will, I think, largely unify against the public influence of religion.

What can be done to prevent them from succeeding?

First and most obvious—defend religious liberty in the courts. Although I have depicted deep cultural pressures that work against religious liberty, we live in a society governed by the rule of law. Precedent matters, and good lawyering can make a substantive difference.

Second—fight against the emerging legal theories that threaten to undermine religious liberty. This is a battle to be carried out in the law schools and among political theorists. For decades, legal activists on the Left have been subsidized by legal clinics and special programs run in law schools. Defenders of religious liberty need to push back.

Third—fight the cultural battle. Legal theory flexes and bends in accord with the dominant consensus. This Brian Leiter knows, which is why he does not much worry about the current state of constitutional law. He goes directly to the underlying issues, which concern the role of religion in public life.

Push Back

ShieldresizeWe must meet the challenge by showing that religion is indeed special. Religious people are the most likely Americans to be involved in civic life, and the most generous in their charitable contributions. This needs to be highlighted again and again. Moreover, we need to draw a contrast with the Nones, who tend to outsource their civic responsibilities and charitable obligations to government in the form of expanded government programs and higher taxes.

There is another, deeper argument that must be made in defense of religion: It is the most secure guarantee of freedom. America’s Founders, some of them Christian and others not, agreed as a matter of principle that the law of God trumps the law of men. This has obvious political implications: The Declaration of Independence appeals to the unalienable rights given by our Creator that cannot be overridden or taken away. In this sense, religion is especially beneficial. As Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI both emphasized, it gives transcendent substance to the rights of man that limit government. Put somewhat differently, religion gives us a place to stand outside politics, and without it we’re vulnerable to a system in which the state defines everything, which is the essence of tyranny. This is why gay marriage, which is sold as an expansion of freedom, is in fact a profound threat to liberty.

Finally, we must not accept a mentality of dhimmitude. The church, synagogue, and mosque have a tremendous solidity born of a communion of wills fused together in obedience to God. This gives people of faith the ability to fight with white fury for what they perceive to be a divine cause, which is of course a great force for righteousness—but also a dangerous threat to social peace, as early modern Europe knew only too well.

In conclusion, I want to focus not on fury but on the remarkable capacity for communities of faith to endure. My wife’s ancestors lived for generations in the contested borderlands of Poland and Russia. As Jews they were tremendously vulnerable, and yet through their children and their children’s children they endured in spite of discrimination, violence, and attempted genocide. Where now, I ask, are the Russian and Polish aristocrats who dominated them for centuries? Where now is the Thousand Year Reich? Where now is the Soviet worker’s paradise? They have gone to dust. The Torah is still read in the synagogue.

The same holds for Christianity. The Church did not need constitutional protections in order to take root in a hostile pagan culture two thousand years ago.

Right now the Nones seem to have the upper hand in America. But what seems powerful is not always so. If I had to bet on Harvard or the Catholic Church, Yale or the Mennonites in Goshen, Indiana, the New York Times or yeshivas in Brooklyn, I wouldn’t hesitate. Over the long haul, religious faith has proven itself the most powerful and enduring force in human history.

College Student, Yale University, and Morality

Immorality at Yale

Another case for homeschooling. Before you spend your life savings on a famous university, watch out! You may want to do some homework! There are a lot of courses you can take online, save money, and your child’s soul as well. If you want a classic education, Hillsdale College is excellent, offering courses online as well as on campus.

yaleSitting for my final exam in International Relations, I found myself next to Hashemi, whose comrades were fighting and killing my fellow citizens in the mountains of Afghanistan at that very moment. The fact that the Taliban publicly executes homosexuals and infidels, and denies girls and women the right to go to school, gave no pause to the same Yale administrators who pride themselves on their commitment to gay rights, feminism, and academic freedom. In an interview, Hashemi boasted to the New York Times: “I could have ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Instead, I ended up at Yale.”

By Nathan Harden*
In 1951, William F. Buckley Jr., a graduate of Yale the year before, published his first book, God & Man at Yale. In the preface, he described two ideas that he had brought with him to Yale and that governed his view of the world:

I had always been taught, and experience had fortified the teachings, that an active faith in God and a rigid adherence to Christian principles are the most powerful influences toward the good life. I also believed, with only a scanty knowledge of economics, that free enterprise and limited government had served this country well and would probably continue to do so in the future.

The body of the book provided evidence that the academic agenda at Yale was openly antagonistic to those two ideas – that Buckley had encountered a teaching and a culture that were hostile to religious faith and that promoted collectivism over free market individualism. Rather than functioning as an open forum for ideas, his book argued, Yale was waging open war upon the faith and principles of its alumni and parents.

Whether God & Man at Yale had any effect on Yale’s curriculum is debatable, but its impact on American political history is indisputable. It argued for a connection between the cause of religious faith on the one hand, and the cause of free market economics on the other.

This idea, later promoted as “fusionism” in Buckley’s influential magazine National Review, would become the germ of the Reagan coalition that united social conservatives and free market libertarians – a once-winning coalition that has been lately unraveling.

I graduated from Yale in 2009, 59 years after Buckley. I had a chance to meet him a couple of years before his death, at a small gathering at the home of a professor. Little did I know at the time that I would write a book of my own that would serve, in some ways, as a continuation of his famous critique.

Encouraging moral anarchy
My book – which I titled Sex and God at Yale – shows that Yale’s liberals are still actively working to refashion American politics and culture. But the devil is in the details, and it’s safe to say that there are things happening at Yale today that Buckley could scarcely have even imagined in 1951.

While the Yale of Buckley’s book marginalized or undermined religious faith in the classroom, my book tells of a classmate who was given approval to create an art object out of what she claimed was blood and tissue from self-induced abortions. And while the Yale of Buckley’s book was promoting socialist ideas in its economics department, my book chronicles Yale’s recent employment of a professor who publicly praised terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

My, how times have changed!
There is clearly a radical sexual agenda at work at Yale today. Professors and administrators who came of age during the sexual revolution are busily indoctrinating students into a culture of promiscuity. In fact, Yale pioneered the hosting of a campus Sex Week – a festival of sleaze, porn and debauchery, dressed up as sex education. I encountered this tawdry tradition as an undergrad, and my book documents the events of Sex Week, including the screening in classrooms of hard-core pornography and the giving of permission to sex toy manufacturers and porn production companies to market their products to students. And again, these things happened with the full knowledge and approval of Yale’s senior administrators.

As might be expected, many Yale students were offended by Sex Week, but university officials defended it in the name of “academic freedom” – a sign of how far this noble idea, originally meant to protect the pursuit of truth, has fallen. And the fact that Yale as an institution no longer understands the substantive meaning of academic freedom – which requires the ability to distinguish art from pornography, not to mention right from wrong – is a sign of its enslavement to the ideology of moral relativism, which denies any objective truth (except, of course, for the “truth” that there is no truth).

Enrolling enemy of America
Indeed, Yale administrators have taken their allegiance to cultural relativism so far that they invited a sworn enemy of America to be a student, admitting Sayed Rahmatulla Hashemi, a former diplomat-at-large for the Taliban, in 2005. Talk about diversity!

Sitting for my final exam in International Relations, I found myself next to Hashemi, whose comrades were fighting and killing my fellow citizens in the mountains of Afghanistan at that very moment. The fact that the Taliban publicly executes homosexuals and infidels, and denies girls and women the right to go to school, gave no pause to the same Yale administrators who pride themselves on their commitment to gay rights, feminism, and academic freedom. In an interview, Hashemi boasted to the New York Times: “I could have ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Instead, I ended up at Yale.”

It’s hard to overlook the paradox: By enrolling Hashemi in the name of diversity, Yale abandoned the principle of human rights – the very principle that allows diverse individuals, including those of different faiths, to coexist peacefully.

It was my aim in writing Sex and God at Yale to bring accountability to Yale’s leaders in hopes of reform. Yale has educated three of the last four presidents, and two of the last three justices appointed to the Supreme Court. What kind of leaders will it be supplying in ten years, given its current direction?

Unfortunately, what’s happening at Yale is indicative of what is occurring at colleges and universities across the country. Those events are, after all, only symptoms of a deeper emptiness in modern academia. Our universities have lost touch with the purpose of liberal arts education, the pursuit of truth. In abandoning that mission – indeed, by denying its possibility – our institutions of higher learning are afflicted to the core.

The political freedom that makes a liberal arts education possible requires an ongoing and active defense of liberty. Try exercising academic freedom in a place like Tehran or Kabul! Here in the U.S., we take our liberty far too much for granted.

*Nathan Harden is a 2009 graduate of Yale University. He edits The College Fix, a higher education news website, and blogs for National Review Online.

 

Liberal reviewer slams Harden

Nathan Harden edits The College Fix, a higher education news website, and blogs for National Review Online. Predictably, the liberal elite panned his critique of Yale’s ultra-liberal leaning. Consider Hanna Rosin’s acerbic and condescending tone in her August 23, 2012, NY Times review:

 

The conservative movement loves an innocent. Better yet if he has attended an Ivy League college and witnessed the debauchery of the elites firsthand. For this particular position, Nathan Harden … possesses impeccable credentials. He was home-schooled, was already married when he got to college and had worshiped the institution so blindly that he was bound to be disappointed.

Like many home-schoolers, Harden is a true American eccentric. He quit before he finished high school, got a GED, and spent his interim years drifting, [working at manual labor] and volunteering with a medical relief charity.

Home school, manual labor, married young, GED, charity volunteer … eccentric!? Apparently Harden and Rosin espouse worldviews that are … well, worlds apart. ~Randall Murphee, AFA Journal