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Domesticating Hannah Arendt
By Stefan McDaniel


I've been thinking for some time that Hannah Arendt, to be consistent, should have made much more room for marriage in her political theory. 

Here's how I see it: Arendt says that action takes place wherever there is a web of human relations, which means “wherever men live together,”  but she tends, in practice, to treat it as what happens in the formal public sphere or at least closely involves the government.  This is because she sees the private realm as, more than anything else, the quintessential place of Labor (or “metabolism”), that is of biological and economic cycles, of necessity, incompatible with freedom and action. The most odious development of modern society is, for her, “socialization” of public life, that is, the exclusive interest in production and distribution of wealth. She interprets this as the cancerous expansion of a metabolic mentality from its proper place in the household. 

Alright, certainly, there is an important truth here. The family is a place of wholly unchosen relations, of secrecy and confinement, of dependency, of reproduction and consumption, animal passion and instinct, and often of automatic obedience and bald coercion. To the extent that a state is modeled on a household in those respects, it is liable to fall into paternalist despotism.

But it is a glaring fact that, at least in the West, and at least since Christian Rome, family life has been based on marriage, conceived of unmistakably as action. That is to say, it has been seen as a public, recorded covenant between free agents. It is initiated by the marriage vow (the act that serves as Beginning, to use Arendt's terminology) but is considered degenerate unless continuously protected through free maintenance of sexual exclusivity and actualized by the free mutual rendering of rights and services (marital intercourse being the most obvious but by no means the only one) and the joint, creative cultivation of domestic life fit for rearing children. Aquinas, one of the clearest expositors of the traditional view, wraps all such duties of marriage into the single word fides, literally “fidelity” or “faith,” but better translated as “adherence” or “cleaving.” 

Spouses are held responsible, by one another and by third parties, for maintaining the fides they vow, and marriages are naturally presented narratively, in terms of their stages, episodes, crises, achievements.  In short, though marriage is some respects a settled state, and although much of married life is “metabolic,” it is nonetheless also a venture that depends on the choices of two free persons and implicates their reputations. 

This view of marriage has been historically obscured by (i) the tendency, especially among high elites, to view marriage as an economic or political transaction  (ii) exaggeration of the traditional norm, bolstered by Christian theology and classical conceptions, of male headship. The core understanding has always remained, however, and in recent centuries the “companionate” aspect of this understanding  (the “sharing of a domestic life,” which Aquinas pairs with procreation as the dual point of marriage) has come so fully into its own as to have distorted the nature of marriage as a whole.    

Why does this matter?  For this reason: A good community will culturally and institutionally encourage individual responsiveness to events, and with it a sense of responsibility. But an emphasis on individual freedom in judgment and action will tend to destroy the unity in which community consists, unless that unity is a felt imperative perpetually addressed to its members. A strong community should be seen primarily not as a contract, a negotiation, a machine, or a physical body, but as a covenant requiring active fidelity.  Marriage teaches, by experience and example, the generic attitudes and habits proper to the citizen or free subject.

 It follows that those who would revitalize politics should not pay exclusive attention to the formal arrangements and culture of public life, but should also see to the health of private covenantal corporations, especially marriages. Public life will and should always differ from private life in ways obvious and subtle, but there is between them a significant analogy and each supports the other.

Fidelity, in a rich and positive sense, is the chief virtue of joint projects, and as a general rule the more it abounds in one sphere, the easier it is to transfer to another. Conversely, the more it is lacking in one sphere, the harder it will be to sustain in another.  It is plain that traitors, adulterers, shirkers, defeatists, cowards, culpable ignoramuses, and time-servers are only partly overlapping sets of people, but being one generally disposes a person to be all the others.  The good society will oppose them all.


On the Tyranny of the Measurable
By Prof. Ronald Joseph Granieri


The media are full these days of stories discussing the relative value of education. Some detail the political fights in various states, such as Texas and California, over funding and control of state universities, while others discuss the failure of universities in general to educate “academically adrift” students, or the pernicious effects of the tenure system on higher education. Central to many of these discussions are attempts to evaluate education, or individual educators, on the basis of measurable quantities—student scores on standardized tests or average salaries upon graduation on the one hand, number of refereed publications or hours taught on the other.

Frankly, I find these discussions both depressing and unenlightening. Attempts to quantify the value of an education strike me as irrelevant at best and pernicious at worst. Part of my objection is practical. Any quantitative measure of education is susceptible to interpretation and manipulation (literally, if one follows the growing scandal in the Atlanta public schools over cheating on standardized tests). Even if honestly gathered, such data may still not tell us what we think we want to know. Do the GPAs or the starting salaries of graduates really tell us whether those graduates received good educations, or do they just tell us about the relative success of those graduates to manage the practical aspects of life? Should we be surprised that Engineering majors make more on average than English majors? Do the number of refereed publications or the numbers of credit hours taught tell us whether a professor is an effective educator? Surely there are researchers who prolifically produce the irrelevant, just as there are teachers who produce a full load of dull and uninspiring classes every semester. Such scraps of data tell us some things, certainly, but they can only provide insight into narrow aspects of a larger whole; we need to know more if we want to know enough.

The practical objection feeds into the larger philosophical problem. Education is not easily reducible to a single result, either for the teacher or the student. To assume that it can be is, frankly, an insult to the very idea of intellectual pursuit. The actual process of education is just that, a process that extends through an individual’s lifetime. One cannot say completely at any one moment exactly how an education has or has not succeeded in shaping an individual’s life. There is an element of mystery in how it works that can elude even the most assiduous statistician. That is not something to be decried, but something to be treasured by anyone who values knowledge and teaching.

That may not sound like much of an observation to anyone who has spent any time in a classroom, or talking to different people about their memories of and attitudes toward their formal education. But it bears repeating, because in our time educational discussions have been overwhelmed by the tyranny of the measurable. Prospective students try to measure the practical advantages of one course of study over another, politicians seek the data to argue for their policy preferences, and thoughtful critics attempt to advance their arguments about the future of education at all levels by poring over the data. Tenure and promotion decisions are made based on the accumulation of material, and armies of newly minted university administrators spend their well-compensated time obsessing over the various “metrics” that go into the Master Metric—a school’s US News ranking.

Conservatives should be especially careful when it comes to this tyranny, because if we are serious about the ineffable, spiritual aspects of education, we should not be so quick to reach for quantitative measures. Sadly, when self-defined conservatives enter these discussions, they tend to side with the quantifiers—be they Texas officials who want to draw up productivity charts to identify lazy faculty or authors such as Naomi Schaefer Riley, who denounce tenure as an unnecessary luxury and cast aspersions on academic research, claiming that professors should do more “useful” things instead. Many conservatives embrace the argument that educational institutions should be “run like businesses” and that education should be practical and useful.

Here again I have both practical and philosophical objections. Practically, one cannot avoid that different measures of productivity often clash with each other. For example, if the famous Texas spread sheet measures faculty productivity according to how many grants an individual faculty member brings in, or the number of refereed journal articles, how does one square that with Schaefer Riley’s trenchant but occasionally scattershot criticism that faculty spend too much time on specialized research that no one reads? If the only thing that matters is how many scheduled hours a professor teaches, where do we fit in the time a faculty member should spend gaining and creating new knowledge to share with students, not to mention the hours spent advising, discussing, and encouraging outside of the classroom?

The problem, as I see it, is that too many conservatives are wrapped up in the notion that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Since conservatives in general tend to view intellectuals (and especially college professors) as liberals who want to undermine American society (an unfortunate attitude that further alienates and isolates conservative-leaning intellectuals and professors), any arguments that attack college professors in general and that shake up the current university system are welcome, even if the positions are incoherent. Thus conservatives can be seen demanding that professors research less and teach more, and can also be seen decrying the terrible things professors do and say in the classroom as disconnected from real intellectual work.

On an even more fundamental level, conservative insistence on practicality and business models in education undermines what should be an essential conservative value—the pursuit of knowledge as an end in itself, and the importance of cultivating an appreciation for the intellectual treasures of our culture.  Groups such as ISI rightfully emphasize the need for teaching the fundamental texts and ideas of the Humanities, but these are the subjects whose value is least susceptible to measurement on a balance sheet or a list of trade skills, and which are always first in line for the chopping block in the eyes of those who seek to make higher education more businesslike and practical. Conservatives should be more careful that their attacks on what may appear to be the enemy do not end up destroying the foundations of intellectual inquiry and all they mean for our future.

There are plenty of problems in higher education. Chief among them, in my mind, is the growing chasm between the responsibility of educators to introduce students to new material and the relentless pressure to specialize. The best way to deal with that problem, and the many others, however, is not to insist on particular metrics. Conservatives, liberals, and moderates all have their particular blind spots, and they cannot be overcome by a single magic bullet. Rather, we need to expand the possible elements of evaluation, by encouraging serious discussions between and among faculty, students, and the general public about what they expect a college education to provide, what they are willing to sacrifice to get it, and how they expect to preserve the atmosphere of intellectual freedom and creativity necessary for education to happen in the first place. It will require the inclusion of a wide range of variables and principles. It will require discussion and exchange, not simply the collection of surveys. It will also require that all sides be mature enough to manage respectful disagreements without resorting to anti-intellectual posturing. Discussion is hard, and time consuming, not nearly as simple as finding one formula to solve all our problems. Nevertheless, if we are serious about the future of education, we need to overcome the tyranny of the measurable.

The Dangers of Politicized History
By Anonymous

Americans have a long record of quarreling over their past, but lately it seems like history has become a central theater of the culture wars. Politicians invoke their favorite saints in the American pantheon to seek a blessing on 21st century political platforms. Those on the left, for example, present themselves as the heirs and defenders of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s programs, or argue that certain measures they propose are inspired by the same values that Martin Luther King, Jr espoused.  Those on the right, by contrast, often insist on the need to return to the principles of the early republic and argue about whether American foreign policy is in keeping with the spirit of Ronald Reagan.  Both sides, of course, claim Abraham Lincoln for themselves.  There is no end in sight to the argument about whether Honest Abe, were he still around, would be a Republican or a Democrat.

It’s natural to look to the past for answers to contemporary challenges and to seek the endorsement of history’s heroes. It’s tempting for those who have even a passing familiarity with history to think that the answer to every question today can be found if one is willing to rummage long enough through the historical record, that history has clear lessons to teach us about how to solve any current problem, and that the historical figures we revere, no matter how many centuries now lie between us, would know just what to do if they were alive today.  The temptation is doubly strong for American politicians, not least because in a country where David McCullough and Ken Burns are household names, the history of this country carries a force in popular culture that is rare among Western democracies.  Besides, the history of the United States offers many more examples of grand political success than of political failure, since the last 200 years have been happier for Americans than for nearly any other people.

To complicate matters further, academic historians themselves often approach the past with one eye on the problems of the present.  The birth of the feminist movement encouraged scholars to create a new discipline, women’s history.  Today, one would be hard pressed to find a major university in the United States that does not have a tenured women’s historian on faculty.  The same holds true for African American history since the era of the civil rights movement, and for gay and lesbian history since the beginning of the gay rights movement.  In each of these cases, contemporary debates affected the way that historians answered the most fundamental question of their profession: Which parts of history deserve further study and which do not?  It is easy for conservatives to mock these historical projects as politically correct propaganda smartened up with a few footnotes, or, perhaps more commonly, to fear them as threats to the more traditional kinds of history that focus on Congressional politics and the waging of war.  It is true that political historians do not dominate the profession in the United States in the way that they did in the decades before the Second World War.  But the answer is not to attack the legitimacy of social and cultural history—much of which is of great value—or to redouble efforts to make American history serve the goals of contemporary conservatism, because doing so simultaneously debases our understanding of history and impoverishes political discourse today.

In its most basic sense, the purpose of studying history is to understand the nature and dilemmas of human experience two, ten, or twenty generations ago.  Good historians try to present a true picture of the world as it was, which entails attention to nuance and contradiction and a refusal to reduce the many shades of gray to simple morality tales in black and white.  They attend to the evidence as they see it, and, if they are honest, allow it to lead them to conclusions they did not anticipate when they began.  This is not to say that historians can or should write about every scrap of paper they find in the archives or to reproduce the past in its every detail.  Jorge Luis Borges’s “On Exactitude in Science” encapsulates the absurdity of that approach.  Good historians don’t just reproduce the past, they try to make sense of it, which necessarily entails highlighting certain facts and ignoring others.  But how to decide what to highlight and what to ignore?

One of the dangers of politicized history is that it uses the criteria of contemporary politics to answer this question and, perhaps more significantly, to interpret the evidence.  The result is that, instead of American history tout court, we end up with so-called liberal American history and conservative American history, as exemplified by such titles as The People’s History of the United States and A Patriot’s History of the United States.  But the suggestion that there is a conservative history of the United States that all conservatives must embrace is to betray the purpose of historical study, because it implies that the facts of the past must be sifted according to the terms of today’s political debates.  It rejects the idea that historical evidence must be weighed on its own terms.  In the true sense of the term, it begs the question by presupposing the answers to the questions that it poses.  It also runs the risk of buying into one of the more dangerous fallacies of post-modernism, namely that there is no single truth—no single history—but rather many truths and many histories, each of which depends on one’s own point of view.

This view is and ought to be anathema to anyone who embraces the motto that appears on every nickel and dime in this country: E pluribus unum.  The United States is premised on the triumph of unity over the temptations of factionalism.  This principle should apply not just to politics, but to intellectual life too—especially with regard to Americans’ understanding of their past.  Of course, there is and ought to be room for contending interpretations of the past.  The dialectic of orthodoxy and revisionism is the basic mechanism by which historical understanding advances.  But to suggest that one’s interpretation must necessarily follow from one’s political allegiance—and to suggest that the other side’s interpretation of history is a crass function of the way it votes—is meretricious.  It does a disservice both to the idea of history and to the health of American political debate.

Why Intellectuals are Left-Wingers, part I: Habits of Thought
By Hyrum Lewis


The first reason I want to suggest is that the default habits of thought that academics cultivate these days lead them to favor statist solutions to social problems. Every era has its dominant paradigm that shapes the way scholars see the world at that moment and, currently, the paradigm that dominates in the humanities and social sciences is that of power and oppression (particularly in the realms of the “holy trinity” of race, class, and gender).  The literary critic, history professor, sociologist, and anthropologist alike have been trained to analyze all social phenomena in terms of power relations in which the rich oppress the poor, men oppress women, West oppresses East, majority races oppress minorities, and all of us are oppressed by corporations and the cultural symbols of dominant societal discourses.

Furthermore, since social scientists, by definition, have been trained to explain human actions as the result of prior causes, they are less likely to see the individual as herself a cause—a being with agency who makes free choices of her own will.  Social scientists thus tend to objectify humans and see their actions as the products of forces, not as free subjects who make choices of their own.  To the social scientist, humans become as rocks to the physicists—materials who do not act, but are acted upon.

Such habits of thought lead to a devaluation or denial of human freedom.  To the intellectual saturated in the power/oppression paradigm, people are inveterately controlled, buffeted, and manipulated, whether they are aware of it or not, by forces outside of their control. Everyone is being oppressed at every moment (by literature, media, economic relations, films, etc.) and exposing this oppression has become almost the sole task of the current intelligentsia.  To the kid with a hammer, everything looks like a nail—so the academic goes around hitting everything (religion, literature, film, TV programs) with the “hammer” of the oppressor/oppressed analysis.

This means that the question for the intellectual is not if we are being coerced, but only how we are being coerced—for coercion and domination are always and everywhere at work. Power, as Michel Foucault (a patron saint of the academy today), has said, is capillary; it invisibly reaches into every aspect of our lives and controls us at all moments.  Since we are being coerced when we shop, go to church, go to school, interact with friends or family, or even speak, then the “freedom” (a la John Locke or the founding fathers) is just an illusion.  We may think we are free in the modern era, but that’s simply because we are not “enlightened intellectuals” who have seen through the invisible webs of power that bind us.

It should be obvious why these habits of thought lead directly to leftist/statist politics: if none of us is really free, then why have any qualms about taking away “freedom” using government power?  If everyone is being coerced constantly by culture, their economic situation, and even language itself, then why not use explicit power in the form of government coercion to rectify these wrongs?

Common people fear being forced by government to do things against their will, but, as we have seen, the intellectual believes that “will” itself is an illusion that only the he sees through—all our choices are forced whether we know it or not.  Why fear the political control of the state, when, as intellectuals are fond of saying, everything is political?  Their habits of thought have led them to believe that government coercion is a healthy corrective to invisible power that operates on us through schools, consumer products, workplaces, television sets, or speech.  Hence, they do not hesitate to use this benign corrective power to “correct” an oppressive situation.  And, since we are all either oppressors or oppressed, in the intellectual's mind, we are all fair game for totalizing state control at any time, in any way, and for any reason.

To the intellectual, whether my government is controlling me by taking tax dollars from my paycheck, or my church is “controlling” me by taking my donation dollars, I’m coerced either way.  When a woman “chooses” to stay home with her children, the intellectual sees that this is not a real choice since it was “determined” by the dominant discourse of male oppression, so why not use the benign and visible coercion of the state to correct the invisible “coercion” of a patriarchal society?  If corporate power is controlling everyone all the time through advertising, financial control of the political system, and the scheming of conspiracies, why not retaliate against this power using the government? If corporations are regulating us, as the intellectual claims, then there is no problem in us regulating the corporations.  If “free market” exchanges under capitalism are not really “free” at all, then why not use the government to control all of our economic activities?

So, as we can see, the oppressor/oppressed habits of thought that dominate the academy today lead the intellectual, unlike most people, to devalue human agency and thus abolish the distinction between force and non-force.  While most of us have a healthy fear of coercing people against their will and using the dominant means of coercion in society, i.e. the government, to that end, the intellectual does not believe in will and so has no such fear.  To the current-day academic, the state is simply the most honest form of coercion in a world where everyone, everywhere, is being coerced at every moment and where formal “freedom” is an illusion that only the enlightened have seen through.


[Note 1: it is interesting that biographers, who examine people as individuals rather than as part of a larger analytical group, are more likely to appreciate human agency and thus are more moderate in their politics than other historians—e.g. Stephen Ambrose who claimed that Dwight Eisenhower (a Republican!) was “a good and great man,” and that Lewis and Clark demonstrated “Undaunted Courage.”  No wonder academics scoff.]


[Note 2: the prevalence of these “Power/Oppression” habits of thought do not make them any more valid (or invalid) than any other habits of thought.  If today’s intellectuals would have lived in puritan New England, for instance, social pressures would have inclined them to adopt habits of thought which saw everything in terms of “Divine Will.”  In other words, the value and correctness of the paradigm is independent of how widely it is accepted by the intellectuals of the time.]


[Note 3: in this post and elsewhere, I examine why intellectuals lean left.  This does not mean that my analysis universally explains the beliefs of all leftist intellectuals, it only purports to explain a general tendency and is not meant to cast aspersions on any particular thinker (as there are many honest and decent left-wing intellectuals).  I could just as easily explain why certain groups lean right in their politics and the reasons would be no more or less honorable than the reasons I give for the leftward tendencies of intellectuals.]

A Reflection on Teaching
By Angela Miceli

As I prepare myself to start a new semester of teaching American Government, I do what I always do: I read Fr. James Schall’s little essay “On Teaching Political Philosophy.”  (The essay is in an ISI book: On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs published by ISI in 2001 - you should definitely get this gem for yourself!) I am teaching at a local branch of a large state university, and many of my students are only taking American Government because they have to take it.  Most of them come into my classroom rolling their eyes and hoping for an easy ‘A’ by scuttling by doing the bare minimum of work.  It is my task as the teacher to convince - or rather persuade them - to care and to teach them why political things are in fact very important.  Reading Fr. Schall’s little essay reminds me why I do what I do: teaching students to seek ‘what is,’ to put it in Fr. Schall’s words.  

First, Schall reminds me what it means to be a teacher, “Teaching is not an exact science, something for which we can all be grateful.  Rather, teaching is an overflow of the truth of existing things we have affirmed in our souls” (p. 111).  Teaching the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the principles of republicanism and federalism leave ample room for questions of political philosophy - questions about the nature of the human person qua political and rational creature.  Even teaching something as seemingly technical as “Intro to American Government,” we teachers are still responsible for letting the students know that truth is in fact real and they should be seeking it.  But this is such a challenge! I cannot tell you how many of my students walk into my class as confirmed relativists as freshmen.  Most of them, of course, have no idea why.  I love these students.  They are searching for something more - searching in the same I searched as a freshman and continue to search in my profession.  Telling students that knowing themselves, indeed governing themselves, is the true essence of their freedom and liberty and the foundation of our government shocks them.  They believe that I am a radical.  Schall comments on this in his essay: “These same [relativist] students are quite surprised, even sometimes pleased [and some of them, not so pleased], to learn that purpose of thinking is not just thinking but thinking the truth.  They are relieved to be told, finally, that the purpose of truth is that we should live according to it, that we will not be happy unless we ‘know ourselves’” (p. 117.)

And yet, this presents another challenge, something that Lee Trepanier brought up in a post from October 2010.  Professor Trepanier asks in this post: “As professors, do we profess a certain mode of inquiry or discovery or do we profess a certain philosophical (and maybe even theological) commitment?”  This is a critical question for the teacher.  One thing I find that students always want to know is my opinion on everything.  Perhaps they are used to the ideological professor telling them the ‘correct’ way of thinking.  Many students have told me that if they speak up on certain taboo issues (like being pro-life), their professors actually give them lower grades than if they just tout the party line.  I have no desire to impose my opinions or views on my students, but my goal is teach them how to ask the right questions and point them to what might provide them some answers.  I want to teach them what I am always learning - how to be truly free.  This is the meaning of the liberal arts. 

It is a delicate balance, I think, this professing ‘a mode of inquiry or discovery’ to the student versus professing ‘a certain philosophical commitment.’  To be sure, each professor holds some kind of philosophical commitment.  But as professors, we are supposed to profess what is true.  What I believe to be imperative is for us to remember, as Fr. Schall says in his essay, “If I know a truth, it is not because I believe I made it to be true, but because I discovered it in something I did not make, in a reality which was there before me. If my views are true, they are potentially everyone’s views, but only if we all proceed through the process by which they can be seen to be true” (p. 117). 

James O'Keefe and lying for a good cause
By Anonymous

Conservatives are singing the praises of James O’Keefe and his “undercover work” once again as a result of the publication of this NY Times Magazine profile.

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud to hear that a man whose entire career is founded upon lies calls his organization Project Veritas. You know, veritas, Latin for “truth.”

At one point in the profile O’Keefe is quoted saying the following: “A lot of people sit around discussing what to do. They draw up proposals, look for funding and nothing happens. I grab my camera and go do it.”

Acting in an upright, ethical manner may take longer to bear fruit. Yes, unethical and illegal behavior may bring about more tangible results in the short term. But in the long term? I fear that O’Keefe and others following his lead are performing a major disservice not only to the conservative movement, but to society as a whole.

There’s a reason, after all, that various groups ask members to keep e-mail conversations private and off-the-record. There’s a reason why both business and academic meetings will sometimes be held in private, where nothing will be reported to the press. Privacy is important. It gives us a certain amount of security to speak freely, to think freely, to try out new ideas—some of which may be stupid and which we wouldn’t want attached to our names. I don’t think we’d want a liberal O’Keefe posing as a hotel bellhop at an ISI Summer Institute, secretly filming the event, and then cutting-and-pasting all of the most embarrassing moments of ISI fellows misspeaking, and then publicizing that as representative of the group. I don’t think we want a liberal O’Keefe posing as a telephone repair man and entering our offices—for any purpose. 

I don’t think we want to live in a world where we constantly have to be second-guessing everyone we meet as a potential undercover spy.

But regardless of the consequences, we shouldn’t be embracing dishonest methods of exposing our opponents because of the harm it does to our own characters, for the vice in implants into our own souls. Veritas, truth-telling, honesty: these are virtues. Conservatives used to stand for virtue. Lies and dishonesty: these are vices. I’d rather not see our side embrace them. Even as means to good ends. 

During this summer’s ISI Institute one of the participants asked Professor Budziszewski what he thought of recent attempts to justify lying using Thomistic natural law arguments that appealed to his four witnesses: Some people argued that as a matter of deep conscience (witness number 1) that lying in certain circumstances was obviously right. Some people argued that as a matter of the human design after the fall (witness numbers 2 and 3) that speech was no longer intended solely for truth-telling and that lying now had a certain designedness to it. And some argued that as a matter of the consequences that would result from not lying (witness number 4) that lying sometimes had to be done. 

Professor Budziszweski had no patience for any of these arguments. He sided with the traditional Thomistic argument on the illicitness of all lies, and called the recent attempts to defend lying from a Thomistic vantage point embarrassing, that the people were fudging, and that he wished they would stop.

He’s right.

Why do Intellectuals Lean Left? It's Not Intellect
By Hyrum Lewis

It’s no secret that academics (especially in the social sciences and humanities) are generally far more leftist and statist in their politics than the average American. Why is this?  Why are those who deal in ideas more disposed to use the force of government to redistribute wealth, control commercial activity, oppose capitalism, expand the welfare state, and regulate our lives than are others?

This is a perennial and important question that I hope to address, but first I think it’s worth debunking the answer that left-wing intellectuals themselves believe: intellectuals are just smarter than others and therefore more likely to believe the right things.  They believe that intellectuals are left-wingers for the same reason that intellectuals are more likely to accept a correct scientific theory—it’s the truth and intellectuals, being smarter, are more equipped to arrive at the truth (they might even cite studies that show that, indeed, graduate education correlates strongly with leftist politics).

Besides being self-serving, this reasoning fails for five main reasons that I can see (please feel free to chime in others that I’ve missed).

1.     First, if leftist politics are simply a matter of intellectually arriving at the truth, then why do we find some of the most distinguished minds in any field rejecting leftism? (Samuel Huntington or James Q. Wilson in political science, Niall Ferguson or Walter McDougall in history, Richard Posner or Antonin Scalia in law, W.V.O. Quine or Robert Nozick in philosophy, etc.).  If high intelligence led directly to an arrival at the purely rational truths of left-wing politics, then we should expect to see the same consensus among intellectual elites on political questions that we see on scientific questions.  Such is not the case. No top-notch physicist rejects the theory of relativity, but plenty of top-notch political scientists reject Obamacare.

2.     Second, the education = leftism statistics they cite are misleading: while it’s true that the most educated in society tend leftward in their politics, it’s also true that the least educated tend strongly leftist as well.  The curve is not an upward one, but saddle shaped at either end.  So if more education means more leftist politics, why do we find that high school dropouts are more lefty in their politics than high school graduates?  Shouldn’t it be the other way around with the enlightened high school graduate arriving at the left wing truths more readily than the less enlightened dropout?

3.     Third, those of us who spend most of our time around left-wing intellectuals have noticed that the “reasons” they give for being lefties are not reasons at all, but assumptions based on emotion. Nobody accepts the theory of relativity for emotional reasons, and yet almost all intellectuals favor expanding the welfare state because they feel, on a gut level, that it’s “compassionate.”  They didn’t think their way to this conclusion; they felt their way to it as a moral duty.  Their leftism is a matter of the heart (emotion) rather than the head (intellect). 

4.     Fourth, if “smarter is leftier” were true then we would expect to see people becoming more left wing as they gained more experience and education in non-academic settings (e.g. greater life experience through age or contact with a wider variety of viewpoints).  In fact, research shows that the opposite occurs: people become more conservative as they get older, not less, and those who are exposed to a wider variety of outlooks are more likely to move from the left to the center in their politics, not vice versa (indeed, if academics really believed that “smarter is leftier” they wouldn’t be so paranoid about conservative speakers coming to campus because they would trust, with John Stuart Mill, that any challenges would only reinforce the “truth” of their position.  Instead they shout down, boycott, and protest those who might offer alternative viewpoints at their schools and resort to name-calling and clichés rather than reason when challenged—hardly the behavior of those who are confident that more experience and knowledge will only reinforce the “truths” that they have come to).

5.     Fifth and finally, if “smarter is leftier” were true, we would see professors themselves becoming more left-wing as they became more educated in the fields that relate to their political views.  This does not happen.  Take economics for example: academic economists are far more conservative on economic matters than their counterparts in history or sociology who know far less about economics. As intellectuals gain greater empirical knowledge of economic theories and data, they move to the right—opposite of what the “smarter is leftier” thesis would predict.

Beyond the above five reasons, it is also worth noting that intellectuals are oftentimes far less rational than the common person on the street.  For instance, the unscientific and demonstrably false notion that male/female differences are purely social constructs is much more likely to be accepted by an academic than a truck driver. Marxism has been as soundly falsified as has the flat earth theory, and yet the only place this dangerous and outdated doctrine survives (besides lunatic states like North Korea) is on university campuses. Scientist Timothy Ferris, in his recent book, The Science of Liberty, defends and praises intellect against dogmatism, but also notes (puzzlingly) that those who are supposed to be most trained in clear thinking (university professors) are also the most susceptible to some of the most irrational viewpoints out there (e.g. postmodernism).

We all know that intellectuals were more likely than common people to be suckers for Stalinism, Maoism, and other leftist utopian promises (and even today, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez are only popular among intellectual elites), but John P. Diggins has shown that intellectuals were also much more likely to praise Mussolini and Hitler than average Americans. For all of their pretensions to “greater wisdom,” academics are often more likely to embrace patent foolishness than everyone else; indeed, some ideas are so ludicrous that only people in the ivory tower can believe them.  No wonder William F. Buckley Jr. famously preferred to be governed by random citizens in the phone book than Harvard’s faculty. 

In summary, what I have been trying to show above is that “higher intelligence” or “greater ability to arrive at the truth” is not the reason that academics lean left.  There may be a correlation between intelligence and leftism, but this is clearly not a causative relationship—there are other variables involved. What these variables are and what is causing academics to lean left is something I hope to address in the future.

New Natural Law Versus Historical and Revelation-Grounded Traditionalism
By Peter Haworth

Is practical reason the central feature of human ethics, or are historical realities like tradition and revelation also necessary (and possibly more important) for sound ethical understanding? Can practical reason reveal significant insights about the value of God, or are speculative reason and religious experience necessary premises for recognition of God's goodness? These questions are the crux of a long debate within philosophy and political theory. Recent interlocutors in the debate have included Germain Grisez, John Finnis, Joseph Boyle, Robert Georege, Christopher Tollefsen, Ralph McInerny, Alasdair MacIntyre, Jean Porter, D. Stephen Long, and Russell Hittinger. The lines of disagreement have, again, formed in a new symposium that is now in progress on theology and natural in ANAMNESIS, A Journal for the Study of Tradition, Place, and ‘Things Divine.’ 

In continuity with the historical debate, the online symposium in ANAMNESIS discusses the varying views about the role of tradition, revelation, and reason as these themes relate to human ethics and knowledge of God. In his essay, "God, Religion, and the New Natural Law," R.J. Snell defends New Natural Law (NNL) views (e.g., those of Grisez, Finnis, and George) on human reason elucidating significant insights about God. Although not discussed in Snell’s essay, NNL theory also maintains that human ethics are largely reducible second-order rules of practical reason that do not require revelation and tradition in order to be known by human subjects. This can be seen in Robert George's lucid essays on the topic. In contrast, Thaddeus Kozinski’s two essays, "Turning to an Empty Subject: A Response to R.J. Snell's God, Religion, and the New Natural Law" and "The Good, the Right, and Theology," employ a more traditionalist paradigm concerning the importance of revelation and tradition for understanding both human ethics and God. 

According to Kozinski, NNL can only provide a partial account of human ethics due to its over-reliance on practical reason. Moreover, he criticizes the New Natural Lawyers (e.g., Grisze, Finnis, George, and Tollefsen) for the following failures: (1) they insufficiently employ insights (like those of Alasdair MacIntyre) about tradition and practice–i.e., their role in directing reason and subjectivity; (2) they insufficiently incorporate Christian theology, which Kozinski cites Jacques Maritain as viewing to be essential for human ethics, into their natural law theory. Kozinski also criticizes the political philosophical implications of the New Natural Law, and one should peruse the whole article for the entirety of its wisdom–e.g., insights from Jean Porter, D. Steven Long, and James Schall.

As readers will ascertain, this is an extremely important debate with major implications for the possibility of establishing publicly reasonable justifications for traditional morality. If the NNL paradigm fails to accomplish this, traditionally minded people in modern political societies might be logically compelled to either (1) settle for a modus vivendi varient of liberalism or (2) pursue creative legal solutions for establishing their own smaller traditionalist polities. In short, the implications are pivotal for the political life of American traditionalists.  

Please visit ANAMNESIS and follow this debate. You can now leave comments for the authors and engage in critical discussion about the issues. Also, you can now follow ANAMNESIS on Facebook and Twitter.

First Things First: Some Thoughts on Blessed John Henry Newman
By Stefan McDaniel

It is no small irony that we have come to summarize Cardinal Newman as the “Inspiration of Vatican II.”  Whatever its nuances, Vatican II was unquestionably written in an exuberant allegro, with affirmation, of Man and the works of Man, as its resounding keynote.  Newman was a humanist in the reputable sense of the word, but his appreciations of the natural man were always very strictly and clearly subordinate, in tone and substance alike, to the supernatural, that is, to the truths, duties, and privileges distinctive of revealed religion.  This incessant emphasis was the whole power of the Oxford Movement, which came as a startling blow to the smirking face of Victorian England (the most self-satisfied community in history until Clinton’s America). The recent financial crisis may have dampened Fukyama-style utopianism, but the age remains haughty, and is high time for Christians to strike again.

A war on the pride of the world requires no novel venture of the spirit, but simply an affirmation of the absolute cultural priority of authentic religion. As Newman recognized, authentic religion fuses two qualities—beauty and severity—into a subtle synthesis easier to experience than to describe. “It is a paradox,” he says,  “how the good Christian should in all things be sorrowful yet always rejoicing, and dying yet living, and having nothing, yet possessing all things….We have not eyes keen enough to follow out the lines of God’s providence and will, which meet at length though at first sight they seem parallel.”

But though religion includes both beauty and severity, man is in very slight danger of preferring the latter to the former.  It is with good reason that Newman spends most of his ammunition on our softness and sentimentality, avidly persecuting all who would rise with Christ without dying with him. In all his religious writings, but especially in the Parochial and Plain Sermons, he shows his gifts as a religious psychologist, charting the movements of the quasi-Christian mind with a flat accuracy that is droll and sobering by turns. So intently does he pursue us along the paths of our evasions that he is sometimes driven to contortions suggestive of Augustine: “[O]ur Saviour says, ‘If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.’ … When we read such passages…we pass over them as admitting them without dispute; and thus we contrive practically to forget them. Knowledge is nothing compared with doing; but the knowing that knowledge is nothing we make to be something, we make it count, and thus we cheat ourselves.”

Such analyses of human nature are never smug or morbid, but always aim to have the reader realize his state, his tendencies, his habits, his true beliefs and motives, and to notice how they differ from those of the ideal personality of the Primitive Christian, who was but a reiteration of Christ.

The Primitive Christian recognized duties that seemed almost as fanatical to comfortable Englishmen then as they do to comfortable Americans now: He knew to watch and fast.  We must remember that Newman was thoroughly neo-patristic. His commitment to beauty in liturgy and ornament, and objectivity and richness of doctrine was wholly bound up with a high, priestly ideal of Christian life modeled on the arduous way of the Apostles and Fathers.  It is “our duty to war against the flesh as they warred against it, that we may inherit the gifts of the spirit as they inherited them.”  Even Christians of impeccable orthodoxy and undeniable fervor tend severely to underrate the importance of mortification, but this is not an error to which Newman shows the slightest inclination. He would agree entirely with David Hart that “it takes formidable faith and devotion to resist the evils of one’s age, and it is to the history of Christian asceticism…that all Christians…should turn for guidance. To have no god but the God of Christ, after all, means today that we must endure the lenten privations of what is most certainly a dark age, and strive to resist the bland solace, inane charms, brute viciousness, and dazed passivity of post-Christian culture—all of which…enjoin us to believe in and adore ourselves.”

Indeed, Hart probably does not go far enough for Newman. Even at its most excellent, high civilization is a pageant of human power. It trumpets its triumphs and encourages us to accept its standards, priorities, and assurances. We easily confuse “decency,” cheerfulness, and industry with holiness, and thanks to the deceitfulness of riches we forget our poverty. From first to last Newman demanded that Christians be unseduced, that they make the Cross of Christ the measure of the world.  The Cross, that “bids us grieve for our sins in the midst of all that smiles  and glitters around us.” 

But what of the beauty of true religion? Newman did not ignore the artistic beauties inspired by devotion, and he was in the highest degree sensitive to the intellectual beauties of theology. When he speaks of the beauty of religion, however, he means the sweetness of life hidden in God.   Firm conviction and energetic obedience give a man “deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not,—like some well in a retired and shady place, difficult of access.”  Ever the personalist, Newman is fascinated by the Christian personality thus shaped by grace.  Time and again, as though reciting the Divine Names, he lists its varied qualities and distinguishes them from their counterfeits. The Christian is like Love itself, “cheerful, easy, kind, gentle, courteous, candid, unassuming; has no pretence, no affectation, no ambition, no singularity; because he has neither hope nor fear about this world. He is serious, sober, discreet, grave, moderate, mild, with so little that is unusual or striking in his bearing, that he may easily be taken at first sight for an ordinary man.”

This, then was Newman’s nakedly otherworldly ideal, an ideal which all Christians must allow to entrance and inflame them. It is because Newman in no small measure attained this standard, and not because he thought Christianity compatible with science and civil freedom, that the Catholic Church has raised him to its altars. Increasingly throughout his life, his deeds and sufferings, his goings out and his comings in, were ruled by the one thing necessary. A worldling might suppose this made for a mute ethereal figure who fled from bright lights and sudden motions to be alone with his recondite pleasures.  But of course Newman’s life was rich and expansive beyond reckoning. Only Ian Ker’s remarkable biography has made some creditable attempt to measure this multifarious man: the lively and sarcastic correspondent; the movement organizer with the energy and craft of Napoleon; the significant poet and competent literary critic with an uncultivated aptitude for mathematics; the polemical genius, font of searing irony and grotesque images; the major theorist and teacher of liberal learning; the acute observer and prophetical analyst of classes, nations, movements.  All these things and more, knit tightly into one improbable, imposing whole, made Newman, and thus there is no honest atheist (or even liberal Protestant) who will not own his purely worldly greatness.  

Newman does not, then, teach pious mediocrity, or flight from society, or contempt of nature, but a lively perception, which nothing may bedim, that two loves built two cities.

Annual Reports and Student Evaluations
By Ryan R. Holston

A friend of mine recently posted a message on a familiar social networking site (which I’m sure can be guessed!) that revealed a great deal of angst over having to write an Annual Self-Evaluation for performance in his/her current position.  This friend is an academic in a relatively new teaching job, who says that all members of the faculty are expected to provide evidence of “excellence in teaching.”  However, in the short time at this institution, my friend says that his/her feedback received from student evaluations has been less than stellar, thus leaving this person in a bind as to how to present their case to the department chair and dean. 

Since it is that time of year when many, if not most, academics are doing such self-evaluations and since we’ve all experienced at one point or another student feedback that we wouldn’t necessarily want as the top line on our C.V., I thought this would be a good opportunity to reflect on both phenomena.

The first and most important thing to remember when considering student evaluations is to approach them with the appropriate perspective or frame of mind.  It is a cliché in academia that in assessing faculty teaching, too much emphasis is often placed on evaluations that come from students who are, in the first place, unqualified to be appraising the teaching of their professors, and, in the second place, often base their evaluations on superficial considerations, such as whether they found the professor entertaining or whether grades received in the course reflected their self-perceived intelligence level.  The problem is that these criticisms of student evaluations do nothing to help the faculty member who finds him or herself already within this system of assessment.  Moreover, and more problematically, such criticisms actually buy into the logic which treats such evaluations as serving as an - albeit flawed - metric or barometer of good or bad teaching.  But it seems to me that faculty have it within their power to alter this assumed premise about student evaluations simply by changing their outlook on and interpretation of them.  The key is to treat student evaluations simply for what they are -- the perspective on one’s teaching from the vantage point of someone who sits in the room and takes the class.  In other words, once one jettisons the assumption that such reports are designed to measure, score, or rate professors’ performances and replaces it with the idea that they merely provide the view of the course from the eyes of the student, feedback not only loses its teeth and becomes considerably less threatening but can actually be a useful tool in improving one’s teaching (not to mention impressing one’s department chair and dean).

Consider that there are two possible outlooks or ways of interpreting my friend’s negative student feedback.  One is to view these student evaluations as reflecting his/her poor performance over the course of the academic year.  Students, implicitly perceived as the authorities on good and bad teaching, “rated” this colleague of mine poorly, and, if this is the case, he/she is immediately put in a defensive position of having to justify the “score” received.  Interestingly, many respondents to this friend’s post seemed to accept this premise and immediately began offering possible excuses for the performance:  this mutual friend of ours was still relatively new to teaching, he/she did not have ample time at the institution to gauge and adjust to the student population, he/she was teaching one or more required courses that self-selects students who are forced (and thus do not want) to be there, his/her research had been occupying a substantial and disproportionate amount of time, etc.  But this all misses the point.  Such excuses are only warranted if one assumes that the goal is to get high “scores” from students whose job is to “rate” one’s performance.  Alternatively, my advice to my friend was to reflect on the particular areas in which the students voiced critical concerns about the course and to consider which of these concerns had merit and which did not.  The outcome of such self-reflection and deliberation - what is valid and what is invalid about the areas of concern to the students - is what I believe should comprise the content of an Annual Self-report that relates to teaching.  The message that this sends to any department chair or dean is decidedly different from that which assumes one is being “rated.”  First, it conveys the sense that one is open to - and does not just get defensive about - criticism of one’s teaching, something which even the best teachers receive (in the words of my current chair, if you only receive positive feedback from students, you must be doing something wrong).  Second, it indicates that one is engaged in an active process of examining and thinking hard about what good teaching is -- one of the main things, in my opinion, that chairs and deans are actually looking for in assessing faculty teaching.  Third, and related to this latter point, is that such qualitative discrimination between students’ critical comments tacitly reinforces the notion that the value of student feedback is its vantage point or perspective, which still requires the judgment and expertise of the professor in order to have legitimacy, e.g. student complaints about “too much reading” aren’t unequivocally valid.  Indeed, even if one has overwhelmingly positive student feedback, I would argue that all of these points that are crucial to convey to one’s supervisors become undermined when one treats student evaluations as if they were merely a “score” or “rating” of one’s teaching performance. 

In the end, I told my friend, this is about the difference between seeing student feedback as a teacher’s report card or a self-improvement resource.  The former outlook, in my opinion, creates teachers who seek only the approval of their students, while the latter, by contrast, uses a critical eye and actually sees student criticisms as helpful.  It is important, in my view, to continually reemphasize the latter outlook on student evaluations, not only in one’s own mind, but in the minds of department chairs and administrators as well.   

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