American Liberal Arts Blog

Teaching the Liberal Arts in the American Context
Thursday June 16- "Silenced Cal- Why President Coolidge is the Best President You Never Heard Of" -Amity Shlaes
By James Dudley

The greatest challenge of the current day is to restore the budget discipline and check on government necessary assure U.S. preeminence in the next century. But Americans are at a loss for model of a leader for this endeavor. Ronald Reagan does not quite fit the bill. But there is a model: that of President Coolidge, the thirtieth chief executive, who occupied the White House from the death of President Harding in summer 1923 to 1929. Coolidge is usually derided as "silent cal," a do nothing minor president who kept the White House warm between Roosevelts. But his achievement was stupendous in his simplicity: when he left office the federal budget was lower than he came in. This even as the U.S. economy averaged four percent growth.

In this lecture Amity Shlaes delves into material from her forthcoming biography to talk about Coolidge's brand of economic leadership. Next she looks at the reasons why this important president has been obscured, and what from his material might be of use today

Thursday June 16- "An Integral Approach to Sustainable Development" -Sophia Agurrie
By James Dudley

Sustainable development is an outcome of more than economic processes.  It is an outcome of economic, social, and political processes that interact with and reinforce each other in ways that hinder or facilitate its achievement.  To reach sustainable development, opportunities need to be generated, good initiatives at all levels facilitated, and stability ensured.  This requires actions at local, national, and international levels.  How can priorities be decided in practice?  What framework is needed to ensure economic growth and an effective distribution of wealth that generates equality of opportunities?  This paper suggests that to accomplish sustainable development, the way in which economic development has been researched and conducted needs to be modified.  An integral approach to economic development is needed, i.e., an approach that seeks to strengthen the civil and social institutions required for it.  This, in turn, necessitates an integrated view of the person in society and, consequently, a focus on the economic agent’s decision process acknowledging him/her in a holistic manner and in his/her social dimension.

Wednesday June 15- "The Element's of Lincoln's Statesmanship" - Joseph Fornieri
By James Dudley

The study of statesmanship has been gradually superseded in the academy by more technical and vocational approaches to leadership. The primary pedagogical objective is not to inspire and cultivate future statesmen, but to train future technocrats and CEOs. This talk emphasizes the importance of the distinct phenomena of statesmanship as a type of leadership different from business and bureaucratic models. It analyzes statesmanship in terms of five elements: 1) Vision; 2) Duty; 3) Character; 4) Communication; 5) Patriotism. It then considers how Lincoln, as a model statesman, embodied these five characteristics in both speech and deed.    

Wednesday June 15- "Cato: George Washington and the Play that Saved America"- Gary Gregg
By James Dudley

Dr. Gary Gregg was this morning's speaker at the Summer Institute.  Here is his abstract:

Joseph Addison’s play Cato—A Tragedy (1713) was extremely popular both in Great Britain and in the Colonies in the eighteenth century.  George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, and others quoted from the play in letters, speeches, and documents.  Many of them were also influenced by the non-fiction writing of Joseph Addison, the English Whig essayist.  This lecture will offer some thoughts on the importance of imaginative writing in forming the limits of politics and the content of our character and will use this play as an example from the founding period of America.  Particularly, it will discuss George Washington’s life and leadership as seen through the lens provided by Washington’s favorite play.  Participants will be asked to consider the lessons embedded in the play and how they might see such lessons influencing the project of founding America.

A Dean's High Crimes and Misdemeanors
By John von Heyking

David Baker is the Dean of Medicine at the University of Alberta.  He delivered the commencement address for his students last week, which contained numerous plagiarized sentences from a speech Atul Gawandedelivered at Stanford University last year and was subsequently published in the New Yorker Magazine. In the age of smart phones, students were locating the original speech while Baker was delivering his plagiarized speech.  Baker has since apologized for his misdemeanor and officials at the University of Alberta are presently determining whether it amounts to a high crime.  In other words, should a dean resign when caught plagiarizing a speech?

Clifford Orwin makes the case for firing Baker:  “For any society there are some offences that brook no tolerance. When that society is a university, plagiarism is such a taboo. Firefighters can’t pilfer, chartered accountants can’t embezzle, and scientists and scholars can’t plagiarize…. Plagiarism is different. It’s not just a crime at the university, it’s the crime against the university, the primordial academic offence. It strikes at the soul of the institution. No student detected at it can hope to escape punishment, and none should. At my university (as at others I’ve known), circumstances may extenuate plagiarism, but they never excuse it.”  As Kant rejected exceptions to the prohibition to lying because lying undermines the possibility of truth and also community, so too does plagiarism strike at the heart of the purpose of the university and thereby destroy the possibility of its existence.

One of Baker’s faculty, Clifford Cardinal, defends his dean: "’I'm not condoning what he did, but what I want noted is some people here are very vulnerable like (Baker), because of his role…. He is a human being and we are not showing the care and compassion it takes to be good doctors," he said. ‘It seems that people are content to see somebody strung up so far that he'll probably quit.’”

For Orwin, no mercy is owed to someone who undermines the university’s corporate person.  For Cardinal, mercy is necessary because they are doctors, which also seems to be an appeal to the faculty’s specific purpose.  For Cardinal, the argument Orwin advances amounts to having Baker “strung up.”  Further, the article does not report what circumstances Cardinal would admit a dean should be fired.

However, Orwin does admit mercy into his argument when he allows that extenuating circumstances may explain plagiarism.  Even so, they never excuse it.  For Cardinal, Baker’s extenuating circumstance seems to be that he is “vulnerable.” 

Unfortunately, “vulnerable” has become the garbage pail excuse for any action, pathetic and sordid, that aims to exculpate one of moral responsibility.  That Cardinal would apply this category to the Dean of Medicine, of all people, is an indication that the category of “vulnerability” is worthless.  If the Dean is “vulnerable,” then he is incapable of serving as a leader in the university.  If the Dean is “vulnerable,” then everyone is “vulnerable,” and so no one is.  Even so, in a time when academics and citizens turn a blind eye away from moral failure in their leaders, it is unsurprising that such an argument would have its defenders.

One of Cardinal’s colleagues gets closer to the likely truth of the matter:  "My colleagues are disturbed. It casts all of us in a bad light,’ John Church, who teaches health policy and political ethics at the U of A, said Monday.”

And so the wagons circle.

Tuesday June 14: "The Statesmanship of an Eighteenth Century Child: Henry Adams, the Constitution, and American Identity" - Natalie Taylor
By James Dudley

Political scientist James P. Young explains the continued importance of The Education of Henry Adams by reminding readers that “The story Adams tells represents not only his life but also the history of his family, his class, and indeed his country.”  A self-proclaimed child of the eighteenth century, who happened to be born in the nineteenth and “required to play the game of the twentieth,” Henry Adams remains faithful to the Constitution of 1787.  Like the generations of statesmen who came before him, Henry Adams recognized that a balanced Constitution fosters the exercise of liberty under the protection of law.  The Constitution provides the moral framework within which the statesman governs, guiding the people in upholding the principles of the republic.  Henry Adams learns this lesson well from his grandfather, John Quincy Adams.   As “the boy Henry” ages during the course of the nineteenth century, the precarious balance of the Constitution is lost and a decline in statesmanship ensues. Adams learns bitter lessons from the corruption of late-nineteenth century politics and becomes a mere witness to politics during the Progressive Era. 

 

Unable to practice statesmanship in the manner of his ancestors, Henry Adams practices literary statesmanship.  It is by telling the story of an eighteenth-century child that Adams guides his readers in upholding the principles of the republic.  This lecture will examine the lessons imparted by Henry Adams to his readers about the importance of a balanced Constitution in shaping American identity

Tuesday June 14- "Alexis de Tocqueville on the Foundations and Future of American Democracy"- Randall Strahan
By Anonymous

Tocqueville acknowledges the wisdom of the Founders of the U.S. Constitution. Yet his account of the founding of government based on popular sovereignty in America emphasizes a point of departure that comes well before the Revolution and the adoption of the Constitution. In his analysis of the success of a democratic republic in the United States, Tocqueville also assigns crucial importance to the mores that guide citizens’ actions within the constitutional forms designed by the Founders.  American identity and public spirit are said to arise from practical experience of participation in local and state political communities along with attachment to principles articulated in our national founding documents.  Looking to the future, Tocqueville was confident that government based on popular sovereignty was firmly established in America, but less confident of the survival of the federal Constitution. In the longer term he foresaw a powerful centralizing tendency in modern democratic politics that, if left unchecked, could result in a new type of despotism.  Tocqueville’s analysis suggests that some of what is distinctively American about American democracy—certain institutions and practices that develop and sustain beneficial mores among citizens—will always be at risk of being overwhelmed by what is democratic. Tocqueville’s “new political science” recognizes the importance of constitutional forms in shaping democratic regimes and citizens, but calls our attention to other causes that may be equally important for understanding the past and future of American democracy

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Monday June 13 at Princeton
By Drew Alexander

The 2011 Summer Institute opens tonight at the Nassau Inn with Dr. George Nash's lecture entitled :Educating for Liberty: The Reverand John Witherspoon and America's Founding Fathers.

Dr. Nash's abstract is as follows:

As the 2011 Summer Institute prepares to examine the themeThe Constitution and American Identity, it seems fitting to begin by reflecting on the historical backdrop of our conversation. John Witherspoon was the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence. At least as importantly, as president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) from 1768 to 1794, he superintended and shaped the education of literally dozens of young men (including James Madison) who went on to hold positions of political leadership in the new United States. This lecture will explore Witherspoon's influence on the intellectual and political identity of the generation of patriots who made and secured the American Revolution.

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Caricatured or Correct?
By Lee Trepanier

In an article in The Guardian, there is an accountof a new type of university in Great Britain which academics fear most: “academic celebrity, student fees, profit and loss, one-to-one tutorials and America.” Is this the future of the university? Should it be?

Sexual Ethics as Moral Barometer of the Future of the Republic
By James Allen

A new Gallup study of American ethical/moral attitudes across age ranges was just released related to such topics as the morality of pornography, non-marital sexuality, polygamy, homosexuality, etc.:

http://www.gallup.com/video/147878/Divorce-Morally-Accetable-Americans-Affairs-Least.aspx


Notice that youth in the USA are moving ever closer to matching their unabashedly secular European counterparts (German, Dutch, Italian, English, French, etc.) when it comes to attitudes in the same department. For example a Gallup study of a couple of years ago found that nearly 2/3 of all Germans believed that regularly viewing pornography is morally acceptable. But the American stats here occur with the USA supposedly being a lot more plugged in to organized "religious"  practice and belief than is the case for Europe. Of course, American religiosity can be notoriously vacuous and banal in comparison to an authentic, robustly Judeo-Christian vision. And religious institutional "attendance" in the USA can often be associated with a gigantic theological disconnect when it comes to day-to-day, lived theology and actual practice.

In Europe, at least many people there are more seemingly consistent. For instance, most there seem to instinctively recognize that being a "Christian" (ironically, pivotal to the history of European civilization) means something that is contrary to contemporary secular values. And, as such, most there no longer identify themselves as being particularly "Christian." But in the USA, there is the strange marriage of secular values joined to the need to still appear "religious" via church attendance, giving lip service to various theological platitudes, etc. But I suspect that youth in the USA are soon coming to match their more consistently secular European counterparts. Already, religious institutional attendance and affiliation rates have been dropping precipitously in just the past 10 years.....With young people leading the way in the drop-out department.

But more directly pertinent to what I do for a living (i.e. teaching students in a consciously Christian university setting), I wonder about the general ethical attitudes of students in the classrooms of the more conservative, traditionally religious colleges and universities in the USA.....I.e. Whether they would be much different than these survey numbers. In just the past couple of years, I have personally experienced some amazingly disturbing incidents in which allegedly Christian students attending putatively Christian universities have been involved in some really sordid ethical incidents. And these incidents occurred with the students involved seeming to not have much of a conscience working in the various circumstances.

And I also wonder if administrators and Boards of Directors at such religiously-oriented schools even realize the extent of the mass liquidation of the Judeo-Christian worldview taking place in our lifetimes. Or if such administrators merely plod on and continue to assume that today's students attending such schools are basically the same as those of decades past. Os Guinness' 1973 prediction in his book, The Dust of Death, that the then seemingly fringe ethical positions of the Swinging '60s/early '70s could one day infiltrate mainstream Western societies seems to have been quite prophetic. What were once shocking ethical positions just 40 years ago have become quite mainstream today. And I suspect that even professed "religious" youth of today have likewise drunk deeply at the well of the ethical downgrade.

These ominous developments would also seem to pose a serious threat to our national republican political experiment. Granted, many of the pivotal, political minds of the Constitutional period were not orthodox Christians. But as even the skeptical historian Carl Becker noted in his book, The Heavenly City of the 18th-Century Philosophers (1932), Enlightenment European figures who displayed such hostility to organized Christianity in Europe nevertheless still operated on moral and ethical assumptions quite grounded in traditional Judeo-Christian theology. The same ethical viewpoints could also be found in the Deist-inclined movers and shakers of the post-Revolutionary War and Constitutional periods of American history. And these ethical beliefs and understandings would have dovetailed nicely with the ethical and moral beliefs of the majority Protestant, more evangelically-inclined population of the young USA. 

This generally peaceful marriage of Enlightenment and more orthodox Judeo-Christian ethical viewpoints arguably held until the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s, when the ethical consensus unravelled. And the ongoing "culture wars" of the past few decades have displayed clear evidence that the American nation has increasingly fragmented when it comes to defining standards of right and wrong.

And yet, the intellectual architects of the national political establishment in the late 1700s clearly articulated the view that a "virtuous citizenry" was absolutely essential to the long-term survival of a republican form of government. Otherwise, factionalism, subsequent anarchy, and eventually tyranny would inevitably emerge to wield control over a morally fragmented citizenry.

I fear that our increasingly divisive and ethically contested public sphere could lead to such instability and, in the worst case scenario, the demise of our republican form of government. But apart from some sort of return to a more cohesive understanding of public ethical and moral principles (as was the case when Judeo-Christian ideals held sway), I am pessimistic about the future health of the American republican political experiment.

Postscript: I wrote this piece just prior to the Anthony Weiner “Weinergate” revelations in which Congressman Weiner admitted to extensive “sexting” and other sexually explicit activities with various women that he had met online. Without commenting extensively on the entire sordid tragedy, I fear that this media event will further reinforce American public cynicism regarding the integrity of public officials and even public institutions themselves. The revelations related to Congressman Weiner only add to seemingly flourishing sex scandals of recent years centering on disgraced public officials (i.e. “men behaving badly”) to be found in both political parties: John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Chris Lee, Arnold Schwarzenegger, etc. 

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