Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Roll Over, Robert Havighurst — Make Way For The 2016 Presidential Campaign

November 8, 2016, cannot arrive soon enough in these dismal times. Today, history professor Robert Zaretsky offers the rise of the Stupid party's presidential candidate as a "teachable moment." If this is (fair & balanced) political pedagogy, so be it.

[x CHE]
Trump As A Teaching Moment
By Robert Zaretsky

created at TagCrowd.com

During this year of living with Donald Trump, I have mostly resembled the frantic fellow in Edvard Munch’s "The Scream." Hands clasped to my face and over my ears, mouth agape, bug-eyed, and barreling away from something dreadful coming my way. Ever since Trump’s declaration last year that Mexican immigrants are rapists to the recent revelation about his personal predilection for rape, my jaw keeps dropping and my blood pressure keeps rising.

Since last year, this reflex, I suspect, has become commonplace in the academy. And yet it is clearly a reflex best suppressed in the classroom. The great challenge, at least in the humanities, is how to respond to this electoral season as a teaching moment.

These moments often come wrapped in comparisons with the past. In order to explain the rise of Trump, the media have hawked a dizzying range of historical comparisons. The associations made in the real and virtual press between the Republican presidential candidate and various tin-pot dictators and totalitarian rulers, from Hugo Chávez to Benito Mussolini, have been legion. And, of course, we cannot forget Adolf Hitler, if only because comedians and commentators will not allow us to forget. A moment does not seem to pass when someone somewhere is busy validating Godwin’s celebrated law. From the comedian Louis C.K. to the book reviewer Michiko Kakutani, influential figures in American popular culture suggest we are lurching toward our own red, white, and blue Gleichschaltung.

My students swim in a virtual sea of such comparisons. And while the sea may be shallow, it is so wide that its waters lap up against the classroom door. Toss a line into the water and Google "Hitler Trump." By the time you do, you will surely catch more than the 30 million links I hauled in this morning. Beyond launching a million memes, the Hitler-Trump comparison has been the stuff of Comedy Central rants and YouTube riffs. Thanks, in part, to our entertainment-industrial complex, students have become connoisseurs of the art of slicing and dicing Trump. It has become a late-night staple, one that satisfies our Munch-like need to vent, but also risks recreating the same unsettling and unreasoning dynamic that shapes Trump rallies.

What’s a historian to do? Make comparisons, I’m afraid. This is, for better and worse, not just inherent to the workings of our profession, but to the workings of our minds. Human beings are condemned to think comparatively. The difference, when it comes to historians, is that we are better trained to account for crucial variables and discount glib analogies. Or so we might tell ourselves at 3:00 in the morning.

But historical events being so very complex, variables vary so drastically as to make the most careful comparisons either so general or so narrow as to be useless. As for historians, we are equally complex; as a result, when we are in front of the classroom, trying to engage our students, comparisons and analogies come fast and furious. We begin to resemble media celebrities, only with fewer jokes and more footnotes.

But there is, perhaps, a more self-aware and less direct approach to comparative thinking. Rather than pointing to one-to-one correspondences between individuals or events then and now, historians might consider turning to those writers who have turned to the past for enduring truths about human nature.

In one of my classes, we have just finished reading Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Second Discourse. Though published more than 250 years ago, the book’s dissection of human relations based on the pursuit of desires and not needs, the reign of appearance and not authenticity, is as merciless and mesmerizing today as it was in 1754. We pause and parse certain passages, like Rousseau’s mythical account of the "fatal moment" when human beings slipped unwittingly from a state of solitude to the state of society, a world where "each one began to look at the others and to wanted to be looked at himself, and public esteem had a value." A few students glance at the smartphones on their laps, others bury them in their bags.

Or we stop at Rousseau’s probing of the dark side to human reason: "Our fellow-man can be murdered with impunity under our window; we only need put our hands over our ears and argue with ourselves to prevent nature, which rebels within us, from identifying us with the murdered man." Suddenly, the class finds itself discussing Syria. At the next moment, we move to the presidential debates when a student points us to this passage: "I would claim that if one sees a handful of powerful and rich men at the height of grandeur and fortune, while the crowd grovels in obscurity and misery, it is because the former prize the things they enjoy only insofar as others are deprived of them."

In another class, we have read Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian Wars. The work, Thucydides famously declared, was a possession for all time. But not, I suspect, because it offers ironclad rules for geopolitical or military strategies, or because Athens also confronted the challenge of shameless demagogues and discontented citizens. Instead, as we read the book, the students and I discover that it is a timeless possession thanks to its account of the relationship between language and politics, and how the corruption of one leads to the corruption of the other. Or, even more disturbingly, how Thucydides may well be suggesting that history is little more than the stage for tragedy — that human nature being what it is, we are no more exempt from making new mistakes than the Athenians were from making old mistakes.

Of course, such an approach is hardly the call to activism and engagement called for by groups like Historians Against Trump. But perhaps today more than ever, historians in the classroom need to recall that there are other forms of engagement — forms that require breaking free, if only for the 50 minutes of a class period, of the pressure of the media and relentlessness of the news cycle.

Our task is not to preach, much less to screech — though heaven knows I very much want to do so. Instead, our job is to dwell on the deeper comparisons and devote our time to dialogue with these works and one another. In his work The Historian’s Craft, the great Marc Bloch made a passionate case for the use of historical comparison, but one hedged with humility and humanity. On the basis of that, he declared, the reader will decide whether the historian’s trade is worth practicing. Or, we might add, teaching. ###

[Robert Zaretsky is a professor of world cultures and literatures in the department of modern and classical languages and the Honors College at the University of Houston and the author, most recently, of Boswell’s Enlightenment (2015). Zaretsky received a BA (philosophy) from McGill University, an MA (history) from the University of Vermont, and a PhD (history) from the University of Virginia.]

Copyright © 2016 The Chrinicle of Higher Education

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Not So Fast, Andre Walker — Tom Tomorrow Has Discovered A 5th Hair Type: Alien

Oprah Winfrey's hair stylist, Andre Walker, has created a hair-typing system that includes — straight, wavy, curly, and kinky. But a 5th type has emerged, thanks to the trichologal expertise of Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins). The most bizarre hairstyle on the hustings in 2016 belongs to the Stupid party candidate for POTUS 45. If this is a (fair & balanced) critique of present-day coiffurism, so be it.

[x TMW]
It;s Alive!
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

Copyright © 2016 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Today, Eags & Roger The Dodger Figuratively Bitch-Slap The Most Stupid Candidate Ever

Mea culpa. This blogger realizes that he is violating the politics-free rule for this blog, but... two Op-Ed pieces in today's NY Fishwrap were too good to ignore. So... sue this blogger (like a Stupid presidential candidate is wont to do). If this is a (fair & balanced) Sunday double-helping of snark, so be it.

Vannevar Bush HyperlinkBracketed numericsDirectory]
[1] The REAL Choice For 2016 (Eags/Timothy Egan)
[2] The Word O'The Day: "Sure" (Roger The Dodger/Roger Cohen)

[1]Back To Directory
[x NY Fishwrap]
American Gut Check
By Eags (Timothy Egan)

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You can imagine Donald Trump sitting on his golden throne in the Las Vegas hotel he built with all that cheap Chinese steel, imagine him trying to keep every molecule of reality from entering the room. He’s seething, because his numbers are cratering. And yet, in his mind he cannot be losing. So, everything is rigged.

When he takes the debate stage, he does not smile. The closest thing to it is a sore-loser sneer for failing to get an Emmy out of a reality television show that allowed him to belittle women. He tries to act normal — to hold back the hatred inside him. But this dangerous man is incapable of bottling up his dark self for a full 90 minutes. And in the end, he finally crosses the one political barrier he had yet to fully cross — trashing democracy itself, we the people.

The best presidents are aspirational, urging us to climb every mountain and ford every stream. Trump has never been able to make it out of the gutter.

The remaining enablers — Reince Priebus, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Pence — had to know that things were bad when the Republican presidential nominee was tougher on the sainted Ronald Reagan than on the Russian strongman, Vladimir Putin.

And they had to know the game was over when another 3 AM tweet was blasted out by Trump, with his conclusion that he won, because of online polls that could not pass the vetting of Baghdad Bob.

The smear and loathing in Las Vegas was in character. So was Trump’s lack of stamina. He’s become a very tired and confused 70-year-old man feeding nuts to squirrels in the park of his delusions.

Thus, every Trump lie, every Trump insult, every Trump befuddlement over something he’s utterly clueless about barely made a dent in the public’s perception of him. What resonated was when he went after us, and after the most powerful tool of a self-governing nation.

To understand how Trump got to this point you have to understand who is shaping Trump’s worldview. The architect of the candidate’s last-gasp attempt to bring the country down with him is Steve Bannon, the former head of a fabulist, far-right website — Breitbart. Bannon is not much of a Republican.

“I’m a Leninist,” he said in a conversation recounted by Ronald Radosh in The Daily Beast. “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

Bannon later said that he didn’t recall the conversation. But he is the Trump whisperer, the one whose influence you can see with every minute left in the hourglass of this election. You have no better blueprint for Trump’s destructive campaign than those words.

Trump himself does not have a plan. He certainly doesn’t have a governing philosophy. When asked about his Supreme Court values, the only thread of the Constitution he could talk about was the Second Amendment. But he is, in the words attributed to Bannon, doing all he can to bring everything crashing down.

So, we arrive at this American gut check. Are we the country that sends election monitors out to fledgling democracies, with more than two centuries of experience to impart? Are we a nation of Rockwellian citizens at polling booths overseen by church ladies? Is there any morning in Trump’s America, or is it just the sleazy bar with a candidate desperately looking for a “10” at last call?

His debate-night threat, holding the validity of the election itself hostage, is no surprise. Trump is bereft of patriotism, and seems to hate the country he wants to lead. He’s been talking down this nation and its most cherished institutions throughout his campaign. Time and again, he would rather defend Russia than the United States.

He’s gone after free speech — that would be the right granted in the amendment just before the only one he knows — threatening his enemies in the press. That same first amendment ensures that a religious test will not be used to judge us — another thing he has thrown to the side.

When most of us look in the big mirror, we see a nation of immigrants. We see families who fled a famine, who fled war, who fled nations that offered no hope to own property or have a say in choosing a leader. Trump sees only menace, and lowlifes with foreign accents.

He attacks the rule of law, due process, the separation of powers. He will jail his opponent, he promises. And a federal judge is disqualified because of his ethnic ancestry.

As the writer David Frum noted: “Who among us hasn’t woken up in Las Vegas feeling he made a fool of himself the night before?” Trump will never know he made a fool of himself. But in the final debate, his true persona was there for all to see — a self-hating American. ###

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

Copyright © 2016 The New York Times Company

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[x NY Fishwrap]
Trump The Anti-American
By Roger The Dodger (Roger Cohen)

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Delmore Schwartz, the poet, wrote of “the beautiful American word, Sure.

To anyone raised as I was in the crimped confines of a wearier continent, Europe, that little word is indeed a thing of beauty, expressing a sense of possibility, an embrace of tomorrow, openness to the stranger, and a readiness for adventure that no other country possesses in such degree. It is the most concise expression of the optimism inherent in the American idea.

It is also something incommunicable until lived. To the outsider, America may appear by turns vulgar or violent, crass or childish, ugly or superficial, and of course it can be all of these things. Jonathan Galassi, the poet and publisher, has written of the “American cavalcade,” Philip Roth of “the indigenous American berserk,” and there is a gaudy, raucous, cinematic tumult to American life that is without parallel. Relentless reinvention is what America does; that is not always pretty. But beneath it all reside a can-do straightforwardness and directness that are the warp and weft of the American tapestry.

“Will you come with me?”


No questions asked. Sure I will. The word is at once strong and soft, reassuring above all. The American experiment unravels without this.

The spirit of “Sure” stands in contrast to the culture of impossibility and the fear of failure that often undercut European enterprise. Bitter experience of repetitive cataclysm has taught Europe to be wary of risk. Perhaps the French brick wall contained in the phrase “pas possible,” ["impossible"] a frequent response to my inquiries during the years I lived in Paris, best expresses this mind-set. Call it the spirit of “Non ["No"].” No wonder Europe does social protection better than innovation.

Now if this America, whose essence is openness, whose first question is not “Where do you come from?” but “What can you do for me?” becomes consumed by rage, then it is lost. Rage is a closing of the mind. Anger against the foreigner, against the outsider and against the other may offer some passing consolation in times of difficulty or dread but they lead America away from itself. They offer the spirit of suspicion in place of the spirit of “Sure.” They undercut American decency. They replace the draw of the next frontier and of the unknown with the dead end of walls. Rage is also a form of dishonesty because it precludes the reflection that leads to truth.

And this in the end is all that Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for the highest office in the land, has had to offer America: his shallow, manipulative, self-important, scapegoat-seeking form of rage.

Over the three debates with Hillary Clinton it became clear that this businessman who says he wants to make America great again in fact wants to make America shrink into a defensive crouch of resentment. Trump was small in the debates. He was as small as the America he seems to envisage. He was mean, nasty, petty and lazy. Smallness oozed from his petulant pout; it was all that would fit between those pursed lips. Any target was good for this showman whose ego is so consuming that he is utterly without conviction: Mexicans, Muslims, women, the disabled, war heroes, and, in the end, American democracy itself, for which he showed contempt in suggesting he might contest the outcome of an election that he contends, without the slightest shred of evidence, might be “rigged.”

The America of “Sure” is a stranger to Trump. His is the angry America of “shove it.” If that frustrated, tribal and incensed America were not lurking in a time of disorienting economic upheaval, Trump would not have garnered millions of votes. He has held up a mirror to a troubled and divided society. That, I suppose, is some form of service. But the deeper, decent, direct, can-do America is stronger; and for that America the Trump now visible in all his aspects is simply unfit for high office. He would threaten to undo what America is.

Of all the sentences written about Trump over many, many months now, my favorite is the last one in the letter sent this month by The New York Times lawyer David McCraw to Trump’s lawyer. Trump had demanded the retraction of an article about two women who had come forward to describe the way he had groped them. The women’s accounts, McCraw argued, constituted newsworthy information of public concern, and he concluded: “If Mr. Trump disagrees, if he believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticize him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.”

Sure, we’ll see you in court.

Sure, America is a country that, despite its “original sin” of racism, elected a black man.

Sure, America will elect a woman as president.

Sure, this land was made for you and me. ###

[Roger Cohen joined The New York Times in 1990. He was a foreign correspondent for more than a decade before becoming Foreign Editor in 2001. Since 2004 he has written a column for the Times-owned International Herald Tribune, first for the news pages and then, since 2007, for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of three books: Soldiers and Slaves (2005); Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo (1998); and (with Claudio Gatti) In the Eye of the Storm (1991). His family memoir, The Girl from Human Street: Ghosts of Memory in a Jewish Family, is forthcoming in January 2015. Born in London, Cohen received both a BA amd am MA (history and French) from Oxford University.]

Copyright © 2016 The New York Times Company

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Garry Trudeau Sinks His Fangs Into A Presidential Candidate's Neck

It's difficult in this dreadful 2016 campaign slog to look at anything seriously anymore. Today's post, an imaginary flight with Chump Airlines, is fitting commentary upon the current national joke. One of the favorite throwaway epithets from the Stupid (former GOP) party candidate describes the candidate best: "What a LOSER!" If this is the (fair & balanced) contempt that the Stupid candidate deserves, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
Air Trump: A Short Play
By Garry Trudeau

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Scene: An airplane cockpit. Donald Trump and Mike Pence are seated at the flight controls. We hear a jet engine warming up.

Trump: So this is your captain speaking, OK? And, I have to tell you, this flight is so overbooked, it’s crazy! Like, everyone wants to be on my flight! It’s incredible! And I’ve never even flown a plane before! And yet many, many people are saying that I’ll be winning with the flying big-league! I’ll win with the beautiful flying so much you won’t believe it! Nobody can fly like maybe I probably can! Nobody. But first we have to take off, and I must tell you, folks, the air-traffic controllers here are the worst—like, totally disgusting, OK? The rest of the world is laughing at our controllers, that’s how bad they are! The incompetence, you wouldn’t believe! OK, here we go! What do I do first, Mike?

Pence: Um ... apologize to the tower?

Trump: No, that’s not it. Stewardess, please take your seat, maybe on my lap, if you don’t mind the bumpy ride. Which is a joke, OK, folks? I’m not going to go all locker room on her. I say that because I have great, great respect for women. Many of them are good people. Everyone ready?

(We hear the engines roar and then level off.)

Trump: Now, that was an incredible takeoff, right? I’m like that Hudson River pilot, Sully, OK? Only even better, because I had a beautiful takeoff and he crash-landed. Total loser.

Pence: Donald, you’re not flying the plane. My wife, Karen, is.

Trump: OK, but that’s the beauty of me—I delegate. Your wife has a pilot’s license, and I don’t, because I don’t really need one. I’m like Limbergh [sic]. I actually did that phenomenal takeoff in my mind, because I have thoughts, OK? By the way, your wife really likes her candy, doesn’t she? People talk about it a lot, but I don’t know. I honestly don’t know if she likes her candy. Could be. Looks like it. Are there any snacks out there? Be right back. (A couple of beats) Wow. Look at all these passengers. It’s unbelievable, like, there must be five thousand of you, and that doesn’t include the ten thousand people who the terrible gate agents wouldn’t let on board. I’m not a big fan of gate agents, I can tell you that. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. They turned away thousands of people. Let the people board, let the people board! Right? Anyway, it’s so, so great to be here in the first-class cabin. We love our first-class passengers, believe me. We love them. And we love our vets. Where’s my vet? Where’s my vet? There he is! Without the legs. It’s a disgrace how he’s treated, he’s treated so badly, like you wouldn’t believe. But we love him. Like we love our Afro-Americans. Where’s my African-American? Oh, there you are. I didn’t see you, and you know why? I don’t see race. At least, not in Trump Tower. No way, because you people live in certain areas. I won’t say where, because it wouldn’t be very nice. OK, hell. You live in hell. With the nasty drug deals and no schools and ninety-per-cent unemployment and rent-controlled apartments—and, by the way, these rent-controlled apartments? Give me a break, right? These people are living like royalty! Only in hell, just so you understand. (A beat) Right, here we go again. So rude, folks. Don’t hurt him. Let him go home to his war zone. That’s OK Free speech. We love free speech. Guaranteed by Paul Revere’s ride. But it’s sad. Very sad what’s happening in our country. We are so divided. Hit him again. In the face. He’s a professional agitator, folks. This guy was given a boarding pass by Crooked Hillary, I guarantee it. A hundred per cent.

Pence: Ladies and gentlemen, this is your co-pilot speaking. I’m afraid we’re going to have to return to the airport. Controllers everywhere are denying us access to airspace. Please fasten your seat belts in preparation for landing.

Trump: What a surprise. The corrupt air controllers are treating me very, very badly. But I’ll tell you this, folks—people that hit me, they go down. They go down big-league, trust me. OK, folks, prepare for the most phenomenal landing in the history of the world. A landing like you won’t believe. When it’s over, you’ll be begging me, “Please, Mr. Trump, take us up again so we can have another beautiful landing.”

(We hear the engines start to decelerate.)

Trump: Um . . . where’s Karen?

Pence: Candy break.


[As an undergrad at Yale University, Garry B. Trudeau drew a caricature of the Yale QB (and Saturday hero of that day), Brian Dowling, for the Yale Daily News. Trudeau followed with a comic strip for the paper, "Bull Tales," that evolved into "Doonesbury." Trudeau holds a BFA and an MFA (both in graphic design) from Yale. "Doonesbury" was syndicated nationally and appeared in more than 1,000 newspapers at its peak. In 1975, he became the first comic strip artist to win a Pulitzer Prize, traditionally awarded to editorial-page cartoonists. In 1993, he was made a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. See all of Garry Trudeau's books here.]

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Texas Technique Receives The Finger From The Invisible Hand, Thanks To The Koch-Sucker Brothers

Back in 2013, this blogger had a conversation with a minor academic administrator at Texas Technique University (as this blogger is wont to say) and first heard about the cockamamie "free-market institute" that was being foisted on Texas Technique. For a time, academic departments like economics and political science refused any part of the "free-market institute" in their midst. However, the report by The Texas Observer details how the free-market institute landed in the Rawls College of Business Administration at Texas Tech University. This blogger is ashamed of his association with Texas Technique. If this is a (fair & balanced) exposé of academic crackpottery, so be it.

[x TO]
Hostile Takeover
By Naveena Sadasivam and Jordan Sigler

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As gamblers worked the slot machines and blackjack tables downstairs, a group of wonks and professors gathered in a 26th-floor conference room at Bally’s Casino in Las Vegas to discuss, what else, the wonders of free-market capitalism. The occasion was the annual meeting of the Association of Private Enterprise Education, a 53-year-old organization that has as its mission “Revealing the Invisible Hand Through Education.” Like most academic conferences, there was a lot of schmoozing and vita-comparing and sitting through talks with titles such as “Hayek and Rand on the (Ab)Use of Reason” and “Is Law Needed for Order?” and “Millennials: How to Engage them in the Study of the Free Market?”

But for this crowd of libertarian economists largely on the margins of mainstream American university life, the conference was also a chance to rub shoulders with their benefactors, right-wing think tanks and funders in the Charles and David Koch network. Beneath the veneer of abstruse Austrian economic theory, this was a place to make a sales pitch — a sort of free market for free-market ideologues.

Benjamin Powell’s talk seemed particularly savvy in that regard. Powell is the executive director of the Free Market Institute (FMI) at Texas Tech University, a 3-year-old organization largely bankrolled by the Koch network and other conservative interests and individuals. Most of the FMI staff had decamped to Vegas for the conference. Powell was preceded by Bruce Benson, who as chair of Florida State University’s economics department defended an agreement that allowed the Charles Koch Foundation to have final say in faculty hiring. Powell’s talk, “The Global Spread of Think Tanks and Economic Freedom,” had a simple hypothesis: The rise of free-market think tanks had made “the world more free.” Now he just needed to get his hands on the data that would show the connection.

The idea that free-market think tanks — largely supported by corporations and wealthy ideologues — are bringing a love of unbridled markets, deregulation and small government to the world would certainly have an appeal for this crowd.

Charlie Ruger, an official with the Charles Koch Foundation, told the attendees in Vegas the next day, their work “isn’t about elections, it’s not about short-term outcomes,” according to recordings of the conference by the advocacy group UnKoch My Campus. “Our job, our goal, our mandate is to help build long-term culture change in order to choose better well-being in society for everybody, through freedom,” Ruger said. (Members of UnKoch My Campus registered for the conference using their real names, but did not disclose their true affiliation.)

That was the same ambitious mandate that gave rise to the Free Market Institute.

Started at Texas Tech in 2013, the institute is backed by more than $11 million in funding from entities and individuals in the Koch network, a review of records by the Observer found. Donors include the Charles Koch Foundation and DonorsTrust, which has given millions to anti-science organizations, as well as other groups with similar political leanings such as the John Templeton Foundation. In a rich irony, Powell has also leveraged the private dollars to tap about $1.4 million in state funding through an incentive program intended to boost research at some Texas public universities. That kind of largesse has paid for faculty, conferences and visiting researchers.

One of about two dozen similar institutes housed in public universities, the Free Market Institute is part of an expensive campaign by the Kochs and their allies to remake higher education — one that detractors fear is eroding academic freedom. In 2013, Charles Koch alone spent more than $19.3 million at colleges across the country, according to a 2015 Center for Public Integrity analysis. For their money, the Kochs and their allies sometimes get to influence decisions relating to research, the hiring of faculty and the course of study.

A close examination of the Free Market Institute’s funding shows how often such funding comes with strings attached. In a 2013 grant application for $1.7 million from the John Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organization that advocates reconciling religion and science, Powell suggested that the institute staff could monitor how students changed their views as a result of their teachings. The funding, he wrote, would also further the foundation’s mission — to build a “freer and more prosperous society” — and change the way “supporters of private enterprise and free markets agitate for more freedom.”

Grafting the Koch cause to public universities has not always been easy. At Texas Tech, faculty resisted what they saw as a heavy-handed attempt to force the Free Market Institute upon them. Seeing what happened at other universities when the Kochs came calling, professors in three Texas Tech departments rejected Powell. The problem was, the faculty weren’t just up against billionaires; they also faced a millionaire businessman-politician who happened to be the chancellor of the Texas Tech University System.

Before he left Texas Tech, Chancellor Kent Hance had two last things he wanted to accomplish: He wanted to raise $1 billion in a capital campaign, part of an effort to boost Tech’s profile as a research school. And he wanted to establish a hub for the study of free markets.

A consummate West Texas political hand with a knack for the folksy joke, Hance had plenty of friends and business associates to call upon. He’d served in Congress as a “boll weevil” Democrat in the mold of Phil Gramm, winning his seat in 1978 against George W. Bush — the only election Dubya was to ever lose. In 1985, Hance switched parties and became thick with the ascendant Republicans, including Bush. Over the next decades, Hance showed an acumen for mixing business and politics, even while he was chancellor. In the ’90s and ’00s, he was a major investor, lobbyist and booster for Waste Control Specialists, the company that operates a for-profit radioactive waste dump near Andrews, northwest of Midland. Waste Control was owned by the late Harold Simmons, a Dallas billionaire who is probably best known for funding the 2004 Swift Boat ads that questioned John Kerry’s military bravery. The dump, which state geologists and engineers have warned will leak into the groundwater, could make its investors billions.

When Hance needed seed money for the Free Market Institute, he knew where to turn. Simmons chipped in and so did Bob Perry, the late homebuilder who was once the No. 1 source of political cash for Texas Republicans, and who convinced the Legislature to set up a disastrous state agency to hear complaints about shoddy home construction. Hance also collected a cool $4 million from John Matthews, an under-the-radar rancher who heads the Kickapoo Springs Foundation in Abilene. The foundation has given to several groups in the Koch network, including the State Policy Network and the American Enterprise Institute.

“I did that with private money,” Hance said at a 2015 luncheon hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right-wing think tank funded by corporations and wealthy individuals. “We did it so no one could criticize us. If I had asked for a special line item [in the state budget], the fight would’ve been on.” Hance did not respond to the Observer’s multiple requests for comment.

Although the institute wasn’t set up with state funding, it has gone on to secure $1.4 million in taxpayer money through the Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP), which was created by the Legislature in 2009 to help boost emerging research universities.

“There is no comparable collection of donors that is getting this kind of bang for their buck,” said Ralph Wilson with the advocacy group UnKoch My Campus.

Even with the large influx in funding, Hance and the Texas Tech administration struggled to find a tenure home for Powell, who they’d handpicked to head the institute. First, they approached the economics department, where Powell’s research interests fit in best. But the department’s tenured faculty, who vote on hiring decisions, came to a near-unanimous decision: Powell and the Free Market Institute were not a good fit.

The Observer spoke to five Texas Tech faculty members, some of whom requested anonymity because they didn’t want to hurt relationships with their colleagues. The faculty said they were concerned about Powell’s flimsy resume and ideological bent, and worried that the Free Market Institute would hijack their departments.

“These people in every case are associated with the right-wing political system,” said one Texas Tech professor who was involved in discussions about offering Powell a tenure position in the economics department. “In [the] economics [department], we understood a lot more than the administration. We have a full grasp of who these people are and we never had any interest.”

Powell “didn’t satisfy the minimum criteria for a tenure position,” the economics professor said. “He had a weak vita, and the libertarian Austrian bent that these people have just wasn’t consistent with the culture in our department. We are mainstream economists. In all likelihood this money was coming from a crackpot right-wing group somewhere who was going to expect the research output demonstrate an ideological orientation.”

Powell got his PhD in economics from George Mason University, a favorite of the Kochs that received more than $48 million from the billionaire brothers from 2011 to 2014. An occasional guest on Fox News, Powell has earned minor notoriety for defending sweatshops in his research as being the best of a bad situation for farmers driven off their land. “Activists naively assume that demanding better working conditions will improve the lives of workers,” he wrote in his book Out of Poverty: Sweatshops in the Global Economy (2014). “Unfortunately they are wrong.” He’s also argued that “laws that effectively eliminate sexual harassment would lower wages,” and that women are in effect paid “wage premiums” for their duties.

Texas Tech administrators then approached the political science department and later the agricultural economics department. But faculty in both balked, primarily because they worried that Powell and any other future hires at the institute would take over the department, faculty members told the Observer. Tenured faculty in a department make crucial decisions about hiring, course offerings and syllabi. Adding even two or three Free Market Institute staff could drastically change the department’s culture. Many worried that they would see a repeat of events at Florida State University, where the Koch foundations pledged $1.5 million to the economics department in exchange for being able to have the final say in hiring faculty for a new free-markets program.

“Among some on campus there is suspicion about what the goal of the Free Market Institute is,” said Frank Thames, a political science professor at Texas Tech. “Is it like in Florida State where the economics department was taken over by one of these? Or would they like an academic home to just do some research? We don’t really know what their motives are.”

Faculty members also fretted over the fact that administrators were asking them to give tenure to an academic they’d never even met. Typically, the administration would present faculty members with three candidates to choose from. Candidates seeking tenure also usually present their research plans before faculty, and faculty members are given an opportunity to interact with candidates. In Powell’s case, administrators presented faculty with his resume and asked them to vote on whether they’d hire him or not. That added to the suspicion of faculty members. They surmised that the funding party, Matthews’ Kickapoo Springs Foundation, was likely pulling the strings behind the scenes.

“The faculty was a combination of irritated that they weren’t better informed and concerned about the ambiguity of what they were buying into,” said Michael Farmer, an agricultural economics professor who served on the senate faculty.

Powell rejected his detractors’ characterization of the institute as fringe and said researchers at the institute have published in highly respected journals.

“Our academic research is squarely within the mainline of economic thought that studies the self-organizing tendencies produced in markets and how variations in institutional environments impact various markets’ ability to coordinate social cooperation,” Powell wrote in an email. “In addition, the Free Market Institute accepts donations from all rational sources regardless of their political or ideological views.”

While Texas Tech’s faculty continued their hand-wringing about the implications of the Free Market Institute’s presence on campus, Powell was pitching the John Templeton Foundation on research and the “outcomes” it could promise the foundation. His main idea was to study what might cause the spread of free-market thinks tanks, naming the Koch-funded Atlas Network and the State Policy Network as examples of organizations that could be analyzed.
“Evidence of an enduring impact from this research could include observing free-market think-tanks change their strategy of promoting social change to more closely mirror the findings of our research,” Powell wrote in the Templeton grant application. “Other evidence may include pro-freedom policy makers changing their strategies to mirror the findings of our research.”

The Templeton funding comes with very specific requirements. The Free Market Institute is required to produce at least four PhD candidates and three post-doc fellows. Their research is to be published in “a quality journal” and PhD candidates must find “tenure-track jobs at high-quality universities.” These professors, groomed at the institute, will then go on to reach 1,050 students per academic year, assuming they teach six courses per year and an average of 25 students take each class, the application states.

“We could measure how much they change their students’ views by administering a quiz on the students’ public policy beliefs at the beginning and end of each semester to see how their views change after having been exposed to these faculty members (I’ve done this in some of my own classes),” the application states.

Powell told the Observer that the institute’s professors have not conducted any such quizzes at Texas Tech and that donors “do not determine the scope or focus of FMI’s research.”

“Each faculty member retains full academic freedom to execute any research program they feel appropriate,” he said.

But detractors contend that even if donors don’t play an active role in everyday operations or make demands regarding the type of research being conducted, there is an implicit expectation about the kind of work that will be acceptable to funders and result in future grants.

“What we see is this network of think tanks seeding campuses, where you have academics going through the university and a donor shows up and funds the work,” said Wilson with UnKoch My Campus. “The [funders’] political expectations are being carried out top down and bottom up.”

The institute eventually landed in the business college at Texas Tech, and its staff members now have tenure positions in the agricultural economics department, the business college and the school of medicine. Faculty members suspicious of the Free Market Institute’s presence on campus still argue that the group’s teachings and detachment from the rest of the university will hurt Texas Tech’s reputation in the long run.

But for the university’s administrators, the institute has provided a lucrative advantage. Over the last two decades, state funding for higher education has dwindled, prompting universities such as Texas Tech to seek more funding from private donors. In 1993, Tech received more than $8,000 (in 2016 dollars) per student from the state. Today it receives about $5,000.

Texas Tech is also competing to be part of the so-called Tier 1 universities, an elite category of research universities that spend at least $100 million on research and produce 200 PhD students each year.

“I know that getting grant money is extraordinarily important to [the university’s administrators],” said Thames, the political science professor. “That’s how lots of decisions are made. So it was going to be very difficult for them to refuse that kind of money.”

Over the last three years, the institute has thrived. It has hired several researchers who graduated from George Mason University and West Virginia University, both bastions of libertarian economics. It has set up a high school summer program, started college reading programs, invited researchers from around the country to present at the institute, and has continued to see its funding grow.

In March 2015, the institute held a three-day seminar at Texas Tech billed as a “weekend exploring liberty, freedom, entrepreneurship and innovation.” It attracted a few dozen students and a handful of researchers from the Free Market Institute, as well as from similar outfits at Baylor and Southern Methodist University (SMU).

Attendees were treated to breakfast, lunch and dinner and put up at the swanky MCM Eleganté nearby. At the reception area, pamphlets from the Institute for Humane Studies, a Koch-funded group at George Mason University similar to the Free Market Institute, were neatly arranged. Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies and McLane Company, a supply chain service company headquartered in Carrollton, the event kicked off with a lecture from SMU’s Robert Lawson titled “Why Do Leftists Hate Economic Freedom?”

In his talk, Lawson pondered whether perhaps liberals just despise people in general.

“I normally wouldn’t say that in a lecture or conference because I wouldn’t want to offend anyone, but I don’t think that’s going to be an issue here,” Lawson said.

There was a general sense in the room that they were part of a vanguard on left-leaning college campuses, righteous warriors confronting a stronghold of liberal tyranny. Later, a student from SMU asked Peter Boettke, a researcher at George Mason University, how he could counteract progressives at his school.“Be a gadfly,” Boettke said, and join up with “good people” like Lawson.

After the lectures, some of the students and scholars decamped to Nick’s, a local sports bar, for beer and pizza. But as Milton Friedman, the libertarian economist, was fond of saying, there’s no such thing as a free lunch; everything was paid for by Students for Liberty, a Koch-funded organization. ###

[Naveena Sadasivam is a staff writer covering energy and the environment at The Texas Observer. She received a BS (chemical engineering) from the American University of Sharjah (India) and an MA (science, health and environmental reporting) from New York University.

Jordan Sigler is a night reporter for Lubbock Avalanche-Journal Media. He received a BA (philosophy) from Texas Tech University.]

Copyright © 2016 The Texas Observer

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

What Awaits Beyond The Dreams Of Teabaggers?

Sam Tanenhaus leads a tour of the nooks and crannies of Rightist philosophy, thought, and activism since the Cold War. Ultimately, the tour ends with a vision of POTUS 45 (whose name rhymes with Chump) and the guiding principle of destroying a nation in order to save it, à la Vietnamese villages (1955-1975). This is a classic case of a cure that is far worse than the disease. If this is a (fair & balanced) demonstration of the consequences of bad ideas, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
Rise Of The Reactionary
By Sam Tanenhaus

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A distrust of high theory used to be a mainstay of conservatism. Edmund Burke, scrutinizing support for the French Revolution, had seen connections with sinister “literary caballers, and intriguing philosophers, with political theologians and theological politicians.” Even in the middle of the past century, when American intellectuals on the right were publishing the books that buttressed a movement—Peter Viereck’s Conservatism Revisited (1949, 2005), Whittaker Chambers’s Witness (1952), and Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind (1953, 1986)—a shared aversion to grand philosophizing was palpable. What was needed, Viereck wrote, was a “revolt against ideology” and a defense of what Kirk called “permanent things,” to offset, if possible, drastic changes, whether wrought in the blood of the Russian Revolution or, as Chambers wrote of the New Deal, in “a revolution by bookkeeping and lawmaking.” Conservatives wanted, above all, to conserve. “The American political mind has never thought much along consciously radical lines,” the political scientist Clinton Rossiter wrote, in Conservatism in America: The Thankless Persuasian (1955, 1962).

Yet, at more or less the moment Rossiter wrote this, some on the right were making a different case, more strident and aggressive, and unafraid of world-historical theories. In the first issue of National Review, published in November, 1955, William F. Buckley, Jr., and his fellow-editors, several of them ex-Communists, announced that they were “radical conservatives” and vowed “to stand athwart history, yelling Stop.” Like more traditional conservatives, they looked back to a better time, but not in tones of gentle pining. They conveyed instead “strangely exhilarating despair,” as the intellectual historian Mark Lilla writes in his new book, The Shipwrecked Mind (2016), a collection of essays on philosophical and religious reaction. “The militancy of his nostalgia is what makes the reactionary a distinctly modern figure, not a traditional one,” he adds.

Lilla, a professor of the humanities at Columbia, skillfully untangles the apocalyptic “mytho-histories,” “just-so narratives,” and “political bedtime stories” favored by the modern right, in Europe and America. For him “reactionary” is not an insult. It is a taxonomic term. It describes an organic response to political and social revolution, and the quite sensible fear that the shared common life of a people has been wrenched out of its cherished patterns. Nor is the phenomenon limited to the ideological right. The left has reactionaries, too—including progressives in the nineteen-nineties who, Lilla wrote at the time, were convinced that Americans did not grasp the disastrous truth about the Reagan Revolution, “since if they did, they would overturn it.” But reactionaries on the right far outnumber those on the left. “The enduring vitality of the reactionary spirit even in the absence of a revolutionary political program,” he writes, arises from the feeling that “to live a modern life anywhere in the world today, subject to perpetual social and technological changes, is to experience the psychological equivalent of permanent revolution.”

In the six decades since Buckley and company took their stand, conservatives still speak the same militant language. We’re just more used to it now. “All this damage that he’s done to America is deliberate,” Marco Rubio, as a Presidential candidate, said of Obama, which sounds almost like an accusation of treason. The GOP warns that, as President, Hillary Clinton, despite her long record as a moderate-to-slightly-left Democrat, would try to lead us down the road to socialist perdition. Where do these passions come from? Lilla’s answer is bracingly direct. They come from the place that conservatives themselves often point to as the root of all ideological evil: Europe.

The best pages in The Shipwrecked Mind are elegant, concise portraits of refugees from Weimar Europe who fled to America after the Nazi takeover and brought with them “some very large and very dark ideas about the crisis of the age.” These ideas reached maturity in the first years of the Cold War. We often think of the nineteen-fifties as the decade of complacent conformism: a robust economy, a beloved war hero in the White House, slow but important progress on civil rights. But it was also “High Noon,” the doomsday thermonuclear clock ticking loudly even as a dangerous storm was brewing abroad: anti-American governments in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, ungrateful semi-socialist regimes in Europe living under the protection of our troops and dollars, Soviet leaps in missile and aerospace technology, and a shooting war in Korea. There were even overtones of Weimar “stab in the back” conspiracy lore in Senator Joseph McCarthy’s accusation that Democrats were guilty of “twenty years of treason.”

In most accounts of the period, including Mark Greif’s recent book The Age of the Crisis of Man (2015), the dominant refugee is Hannah Arendt, whose The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951, 1973) depicted the rise of Hitlerism and Stalinism as twin modernities, engines of mass terror built to effect “the transformation of human nature itself.” Its blend of history, philosophy, and intellectual drama—a postwar addendum to Spengler’s The Decline of the West (1926, 2014)—was keyed to the mood of chastened leftists. But conservatives had their own pantheon of foreign-born exotics, who dispensed very different lessons and left a deeper and more lasting imprint on our politics.

Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944, 2010), a potent critique of centralized government planning, was a best-seller in 1944 (and again in 2010, at the zenith of the Tea Party revolt). His mentor Ludwig von Mises, dean of the Austrian School of economics, gave theNYU seminars—extensions of the celebrated “private” seminars he had convened in prewar Vienna—that planted the seeds of the libertarian movement still flourishing today. And the Russian émigrée Ayn Rand and her young “collective,” including Alan Greenspan, gathered at her Murray Hill apartment on Saturday nights to hear fresh pages of her novel in progress, Atlas Shrugged (1957, 2005). (It remains a sacred text on the American right, a favorite of Paul Ryan, although Gary Johnson prefers her previous novel, The Fountainhead (1943, 1996), and Rand Paul “cut his teeth” on her entire œuvre.)

Lilla enlarges and subtilizes the picture by working through the legacies of two other refugees, the political philosophers Eric Voegelin and Leo Strauss. Voegelin was born in Cologne but grew up in Vienna and, in the nineteen-twenties, spent two years in America, where he heard John Dewey lecture at Columbia. He returned to Vienna to teach. (He also attended Mises’s private seminars there.) When Hitler rose to power, Voegelin bravely published an attack on biological racism. After the Anschluss, he escaped by train to Switzerland while Gestapo agents were searching his apartment. In America, he bounced from Harvard and Bennington to Northwestern and Alabama, before finding a longer-term berth at Louisiana State University.

In the fifties, he wrote a backward-looking prophecy that had a Vico-like sweep and title, The New Science of Politics (1952, 1987) . Its argument was elegant and powerful. The decline of the West had its origins in the early days of Christianity, “the first world religion to offer theological principles for distinguishing divine and political orders.” It filled men with thoughts of divinity, but its promise of final deliverance, or “eschaton,” bred impatient dreams of secular cities of God, built here and now. Voegelin, who had a weakness for odd coinages, called this “the fallacious immanentization of the Christian eschaton”—Heaven on earth, achieved through “political religion.”

Secular ideologies were all “gnostic” creeds, each a perversion of the old faith but curiously like it, with its own mythology, its prophets and priests, its holy scripture spelled out in Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie, Marx’s Das Kapital, and other “new korans.” Science and technology were the new gnostic faiths. Voegelin’s “secularization thesis,” as it was later called, emphasized family connections between the radical left and liberalism. “How indignant a humanistic liberal will be when he is told that his particular type of immanentism is one step on the road to Marxism,” he wrote. This was more or less what American conservatives had been saying since the New Deal, but now the argument had philosophical heft and had been updated for the twilight struggle.

Voegelin’s thesis excited intellectuals at National Review. “Immanentization of the eschaton” became a catchphrase for Buckley, who adored baroque locutions. Grimmer minds, like that of Frank Meyer, the magazine’s—and later the conservative movement’s—chief ideologue, grabbed Voegelin and made him a cudgel. The Cold War could not be won by middle-of-the-roaders in the Eisenhower Administration, who didn’t see how “the bloody terror of the Lubyanka cellars” converged with “the dry terror of social-engineered conformity” in Washington. Meyer was one of many on the right who were all but unhinged by the Sputnik launch, in 1957. The Soviets, supposed to be enslaved automatons, had emerged as sorcerers who conquered the mysteries of the booster rocket while American scientists were still firing duds. Voegelin offered spiritual balm. Sputnik was just a metal capsule, after all, a false image spinning in pointless orbit through the godless wastes. To be dazzled was to join the fallen world in which “technology becomes the god by which we live,” and the Communists would win because they chase “to its logical conclusion the positivistic glorification of control and power as the end of man’s existence.”

Voegelin’s books were not meant to be entries in the Cold War ideological ledger, Lilla notes. But conservatives read Voegelin attentively, and set about trying to spread his arcane message to the masses. The Conservative Rally for World Liberation, held in March, 1962, at Madison Square Garden, drew a crowd of eighteen thousand, with picketers and protesters gathered outside. Organized by a new rightist group, the Young Americans for Freedom, the event was greeted as evidence that the “silent generation” might be shaking off its apathy and finding a political voice. (The Times published a front-page report on the “spectacular” rally, and followed up with a four-part series on campus activism.) The star of the event was L. Brent Bozell, the ghostwriter of Barry Goldwater’s best-selling manifesto The Conscience of a Conservative (1960, 2007). Bozell gave a speech that unpacked Voegelin’s thesis, equating the “heresy of gnosticism” in Kennedy’s liberalism with Khrushchev’s Communism, and then summoned conservatives to reject both in order to “build a Christian civilization.” Its divine mission was to harry Communists across the globe—in Africa, in Cuba, in Europe. One of Bozell’s marching orders, addressed “to our commander in Berlin,” was “Tear down the wall.”

Voegelin inspired the first wave of conservative intellectuals, who rose to prominence in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, but it was Leo Strauss, with his backward-looking prophecies, who dominated the movement’s next phase. Unlike Voegelin, Strauss is still famous, thanks to his position at the University of Chicago, the intellectual citadel of neoconservative thought in the seventies and eighties. Less a grand theorist than a scholar, he was a wizard of “esoteric” reading who extracted rich ore from a spectrum of thinkers—the ancient Greeks but also Jewish and Islamic scholars, and secular moderns such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Max Weber. For Strauss, it was all part of a massive clearance project, meant to return philosophy to its ancient founders, Plato and Aristotle. Exemplars of the life of reason, they made philosophy “the humanizing quest for the eternal order, and hence it had been a pure source of humane inspiration and aspiration,” until the moderns came along and debased it, making it a utilitarian “instrument” and an ideological “weapon.” The culprits were largely social scientists, who had lost sight of reason and confused it with the fetish for knowledge, data, and quantifiable facts, which they separated out from “ultimate values.” What looked like the road to progress, from the ancient world of superstition up to the sunstruck heights of the Enlightenment, had been the opposite, a descent from Olympian reason to the quicksand of modernity: liberal “relativism,” “nihilism.” Reading Strauss “produced the kind of shock that is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Irving Kristol recalled in 1995.

Voegelin had readers; Strauss had apostles. And they spread the gospel to “another generation of political theorists, many of whom have relocated to Washington, DC,” Irving Kristol noted with satisfaction. Among them was his son, William, who studied at Harvard with the Straussian Harvey Mansfield before going to Washington and becoming a major player in the GOP. This history appalls Lilla. His normal approach is that of a courtly sommelier, decanting his intellectual elixir and then stepping back to enjoy our pleasure in it. But not when it comes to the neocons. “The path that led from the seminar rooms in Chicago to the right-wing political-media-foundation complex in Washington,” he writes, “has transformed American politics over the past five decades,” and very much for the worse. Elsewhere, he has written unsparingly of “the remarkable transmutation of neoconservatism from intellectual movement to rabble-rousing Republican court ideology.” He has his reasons. In the nineteen-eighties, while he was in his twenties, he was himself a neoconservative princeling, the managing editor of The Public Interest, under its editor Irving Kristol (who was also, briefly, Lilla’s father-in-law). By his account, the movement’s combination of belligerence and intellectual sloppiness set him on the path of moderation he urges in so much of his work.

Meanwhile, the Straussians were honing their “political catechism” and imparting their own hand-me-down message of Weimar-inflected Kulturpessimismus, complete with images of brown-shirted hordes. “Whether it be Nuremberg or Woodstock, the principle is the same,” Strauss’s disciple Allan Bloom thundered in his best-seller The Closing of the American Mind (1987, 2012). It wasn’t remotely the same, of course, and the overstatement rebounded against Strauss, who had never said anything of the kind but was soon being held accountable for the rashest words of his admirers. The peak moment came during George W. Bush’s Presidency. Journalists and writers, their blades whetted, accused Strauss, who had died in 1973, of being the secret cabalist or “master thinker” of the Iraq invasion, acting through the deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, who had studied with Bloom. It was intellectual libel. A new book, Modernity and Its Discontents (2016), by the Yale political philosopher Steven B. Smith, concludes that Strauss had no appetite for ideological combat. Strauss, Smith says, was an Anglophile, who cherished “the English ideal of the gentleman.” In an earlier book, Smith reports, with touching hopefulness, “I have heard that he voted twice for Adlai Stevenson during the 1950s.”

The fixation in the Bush years on the Chicago-Cambridge-Washington axis of Straussianism obscured a more enduring line of influence, which is only now getting the attention it deserves. This was a new conservative politics that celebrated the “American regime,” with the Founders cast as ancients betrayed by successive generations of liberals and progressives as they contrived to eat away at the nation’s moral core. It’s a preachment we hear today from many on the right. The argument begins with Strauss’s observation that the Declaration of Independence, with its assertion of “self-evident” truths and “unalienable Rights,” was a classic statement of natural right, in keeping with Aristotle and Plato. Up-to-date moderns, heads stuffed with the dogmas of social science, might allow that humans were endowed with “urges and aspirations, but certainly with no natural right.” But, Lilla notes, Strauss’s hope for returning philosophy to its classical beginnings could—with a little “esoteric” stretching—be read into a messianism “wrapped up with American destiny.”

This was the strategy employed by one of Strauss’s first and most gifted disciples, Harry Jaffa, who studied at the New School for Social Research, in Manhattan, where Strauss taught for a decade before he went to Chicago. In the fifties, Jaffa distilled Straussian textual analysis into a pioneering book, Crisis of the House Divided (1959, 2009), which ingeniously reframed the Lincoln-Douglas debates as a nineteenth-century Platonic dialogue. Lincoln emerges from it as a serious moral philosopher, and the book remains a touchstone in the vast Lincoln literature. It is a high instance of Straussian thought.

Jaffa was not just a political philosopher. He was also a “politics fanatic,” as he later said, a Kennedy Democrat who switched parties after the Bay of Pigs and then got involved in Goldwater’s Presidential campaign. At the Republican National Convention in 1964, Jaffa witnessed bitter platform debates between Goldwaterites and moderate Republicans. The moderates, having lost the brutal nomination fight, were now trying to keep the Party closer to the center. After one session loud with “constant drum-drumming against extremism,” Jaffa recalled, he drafted a memo and gave it to anyone who was interested.

“I had no idea that Goldwater would ever see it or anybody near him would see it,” he said in 2010, when he was ninety-two. (He died last year.) Goldwater set aside the speech he had and let Jaffa compose a new one, much of it lifted from his memo, including two blunt sentences: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” These remain Goldwater’s best-known, and most reviled, words. But Jaffa stood by them and the speech until the end of his life. “I wrote it in such a way that there was nothing there that I didn’t believe was true, and you can see places which reflect Aristotle,” he told me.

This is not far-fetched. Strip away the emotions of the moment—the raw memory of Kennedy’s assassination, the controversies surrounding the ultra-right John Birch Society—and the formulation becomes a homily on the moral logic of political decision-making. The statesman, facing a dire threat, has two choices: To embrace extremism is to acknowledge the magnitude of the danger in absolute terms. To embrace moderation implies weak commitment and potential compromise with the enemy. Jaffa’s speech can be read as a Strauss-inflected affirmation of “ultimate values.” Variations of Jaffa’s either/or have recurred in the election this year. Why, we’re asked, are President Obama and Hillary Clinton so squeamish about the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism”? Don’t they see that, in Strauss’s words, “historical objectivity” requires “calling a spade a spade”?

In 1964, Jaffa began teaching at Claremont McKenna College, in California, and in the next decades nurtured a new school of “West Coast Straussians,” who devoted themselves to “vindicating the Founders” and itemizing the full record of liberal treason against them. Strauss had carefully distinguished reason from revelation. Jaffa’s “Claremonsters”—as they came to be known, sometimes affectionately—blended the two. The Declaration’s parchment was touched, if you angled it correctly, with theological fire. It adduced “Nature’s God” and also the “Creator.” Jaffa disciples took these hints and ran with them and are still at it, in Claremont and on other campuses, such as Hillsdale College, in Michigan, and the University of Dallas. When Clarence Thomas was the chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, he hired two Jaffa disciples, Ken Masugi and John Marini, to be “special assistants”—that is, ideological tutors. (Thomas has since cited Jaffa’s influence on his juridical thinking.)

In the past two decades, the Claremont colony has been a hotbed of “constitutional conservatism.” In its best-known just-so story, the demiurge of modern decline was Woodrow Wilson, who in his pre-Presidential days, when he was a political scientist, argued that the Constitution wasn’t engraved national scripture but a flexible living document open to interpretation and amendment as American democracy evolved. Attacks on Wilson became a major theme on the right during Obama’s first term, seized on by Tea Partiers and their ideological preceptors. R. J. Pestritto, a Hillsdale professor and the author of a critique of Wilson’s scholarly writings, made several appearances on Glenn Beck’s Fox News show in the past decade. So did the National Review writer Jonah Goldberg, who popularized Claremont doctrine in his 2008 best-seller Liberal Fascism. In a 2012 book, I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism, the Claremont McKenna professor Charles Kesler accused Wilson of not only diverting the republic from its founding principles but then lying about it, making him—like progressives ever since—guilty of both “crime” and “cover-up.”

Wilson is an irresistible target because he was both theorist and President, which makes the lines of cause and effect especially legible. It also allows intellectuals to believe that their ideas—or other, wrong ideas—really do have consequences. But the historical record is muddier. It seems reasonable to say that neoconservative ideas influenced decision-making in the Bush White House, especially after September 11, 2001, when the President and policymakers were looking for answers. In other idea-saturated Presidencies—Kennedy’s and Reagan’s, for instance—the mood was set at the top, by the charismatic leader; intellectuals were as spellbound as everyone else. The treason of the intellectuals begins, in most cases, not with the fanciful image of them as secret authors or puppeteers but in their abject surrender to power and its lures. They become bandwagoners and camp followers.

The phenomenon is still with us. One of the strangest developments in the 2016 election has been the spectacle of West Coast Straussians who champion Trump—and lustily denounce his critics—in various forums, including the Claremont Review of Books, a well-written quarterly edited by Charles Kesler, and on Web sites like the Journal of American Greatness, billed as the “first scholarly journal of radical #Trumpism,” since reborn as the Web site American Greatness. Twenty or so Claremonsters are also among the more than a hundred “Scholars and Writers for America” who recently declared Trump “the candidate most likely to restore the promise of America.”

Imperfect though Trump may be, the argument goes, he has all the right enemies: Beltway insiders, academics, “social scientists, media pundits, and policy professionals,” as Clarence Thomas’s tutor John Marini wrote. These are Strauss’s relativists and nihilists, who have perpetrated “regime change” at home, destroying the republic, or trying to. Trump’s redemptive greatness begins in his fearless opposition to political correctness, “a serious and totalist politics, aspiring to open the equivalent of a vast reeducation camp for the millions of defective Americans,” Kesler says. It would seem that reactionaries, while they inhabit our world, are not really of it. “They believe that the only sane response to an apocalypse is to provoke another, in hopes of starting over,” Lilla writes. This, too, is a lesson of Weimar. With luck, we won’t have to learn it in real time. ###

[Sam Tanenhaus is currently the senior editor of The New York Times Book Review (since 2004) and Week in Review. Tanenhaus was an assistant editor at The New York Times (1997-1999) and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair (1999-2004). He is the author of Whittaker Chambers: A Biography (1997) as well as The Death of Conservatism (2009); he currently is working on a biography of William F. Buckley Jr. Tanenhaus received a BA (English) from Grinnell College and an MA (English literature) from Yale University. His biography of Whittaker Chambers won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was a finalist for both the National Book Award for Nonfiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Biography.]

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