Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Pipelines to government

Jonah Goldberg links to Mickey Kaus’s critique of this unconvincing Paul Krugman screed, which recycles the worst of the Chris Hedges/Michelle Goldberg/Kevin Phillips school of thinking about religious conservatives in American politics (and in the Bush Administration in particular).

Jonah observes and asks:

I am very much open — indeed, somewhat convinced — that Bush has peppered the government with too many hacks. I’m just unpersuaded that it matters very much that some of them are Christian hacks. Though I should say that I am not one who sees Monica Goodling as some hero of the Republic for taking the Fifth. She may be brilliant, I’ve just seen no evidence for it.

Still, it would be interesting to hear from someone on the Christian right, with some serious experience both in government and among movement Christian conservatives try to parse some of these issues. Are there real consequences — good or bad — from using Christian colleges and the like as feeders for government service? Considering how much Ivy League bashing goes on the right, presumably it is a significant change when a Republican administration starts looking elsewhere for recruits. For me at least, it’s an interesting sociological question, not a theological or philosophical one.

He reports on some responses
here and here, and elicits this from ADF’s David French, of which this paragraph serves as a nice summary:

Are there scary, incompetent, and overly-ideological graduates of Christian law schools? Of course. Are there scary, incompetent, and overly-ideological graduates of Harvard, Yale, or Stanford? You betcha — and they are perhaps more dangerous because too many people are in awe of their degree and bestow on them (undeserved) intellectual and moral authority. The problem I have with the Krugman critique or even with some fellow Christian commenters is two-fold: First, the use of a school’s academic reputation as a stand-in for evaluating individual merit (for example, the individual who said that Regent grads "may be brilliant but probably aren’t" should know the same statement applies to Harvard grads) is just lazy and all too often inaccurate. Second, it is just flat-out wrong to believe that Christian schools like Regent are any more mission-focused than virtually every major secular law school in America. Secular law schools have distinct points of view on abortion, same-sex marriage, the War on Terror, economics, so-called "social justice," etc. And — as I said before — there is no doubt that the faculty spends much of its time ensuring that students will parrot the school’s approved view when their students enter the workforce.

I agree with French that there’s ample evidence that smart people attend schools that folks in the Bos-Wash corridor don’t generally regard as elite (to put it mildly). In some cases, those students get a very good education. In others, they may well be on their way to something like indoctrination.

I think I differ with French in thinking that it’s perhaps somewhat easier to be a religious conservative at an elite college or university than it is to be a secular liberal at a deeply religious institution. In both cases, the institutional culture militates against the "minority" position, but the "official" openness of the elite college or university offers at least a small space for dissenting from the secular liberal mainstream. I think that there can or ought to be a kind of engagement with "the world" at the best religious institutions, and that serious students there have a powerful stake in discerning the truth, as it emerges, not only from Scripture, but also from what one might call general revelation and/or reason.

There is a danger, not exclusive to religious institutions by any means, of subordinating learning to an activist agenda (as French stresses about elite law schools, and as seems to be all too clear about Patrick Henry College, perhaps a little less so about Regent University). For liberal arts colleges, the "antidote" is to emphasize liberal learning for its own sake. For Christian institutions, a focus on humility is surely appropriate. Professional programs are perhaps somewhat harder to rein in, since they’re more interested in "practical applications" and less interested in contemplating the good, the true, and the beautiful. Genuine humility might be good here, too, where it can be achieved (much harder, you’d think, in high-status institutions than elsewhere).

My hope is not that religious folk disappointed by the failures of the Bush Administration will "fast from politics", but that, having been chastened, they will be more modest in their expectations of political life. Everyone should be reading Augustine, as well as Robert Kraynak (and of course Peter Lawler).

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