Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Professors say the darnedest things

Here’s an article that decribes attempts to claim that questions regarding the meaning of life are supposed to be the preserve of the narrow academic discipline of philosophy. Fortunately, some people in higher education have more sense than that. These are human questions.

And then there’s this effort to make an issue of attempts by our friends at the Jack Miller Center to promote undergraduate courses that involve the close study of our founding principles. I agree that if the courses are simply ideological, they have no place in the curriculum. But the folks associated with the Jack Miller Center know better than that, which is more than can be said for this professor, who takes a kind of perspectivism for granted, even at the highest levels of our judiciary. I assume that he would have no problem with any sort of course informed by one’s personal ideology, just as he has no basis for objecting to any sort of biased adjudication. Everyone has a perspective, and I guess they should all try to find of means of being "represented" on our highest court.

Discussions - 3 Comments

RE: the Jack Miller Center essay (thanks for the link):

For me the key clause begins "Whatever the Virginia seminar's virtues..." What the author is saying is that, no matter how good anyone and everyone says the sponsored course is (including the Department chair, a Fulbright winner, and pretty much everyone affiliated with or who has taken the class), so long as the course can in any way be painted as "ideological" (i.e., conservative, since there is only one ideology), it must be deemed suspicious.

But, throughout the essay it's clear that everyone who's bothered to be asked about the funding and courses insists that it's not "ideological"; rather, funding goes toward supporting courses that will advance student's understanding of the American constitutional republic. The incredible underlying assumption is, only when rich foundations offer money to impoverished professors would anyone deign to teach a course on American political thought. Absent such blood money, unblemished and pure professors clearly would eschew any such disgraced undertaking. Only in academia would the teaching of American political thought be deemed to be inherently "conservative."

At that point, all one needs to do is to insinuate some conservative connections and that suffices to prove that there's a conspiracy afoot. So, this author notes that JMC had some connection to ISI, a well-known conservative organization. The fact that there was a law suit fought between them is noted - and thus, an actual journalist might suspect that they may not entirely see eye to eye - but it doesn't matter - the insinuation has been made. The sheer boldness would make McCarthy blush.

This is not to say that there are not conservative people involved with JMC. Of course, it's not surprising that people who defend the notion that it's of central importance that democratic citizens learn the principles and basis of their own regime - in a setting in which such an undertaking is regarded as scandalous - would go so far as to begin self-identifiying as conservative. This then provides the "gotcha!" moment for people like the author of this article, looking to smoke out anyone holding such disreputable views. But we should understand that any such definition of conservatism tends to be somewhat relative to the environment in which it is developed. In some other less radical setting, many of these people might be described as liberal (yes, "classical liberal," but certainly liberal). The real scandal is the laziness of thought and slick insinuation that is laced throughout this article. For shame.

Hell, what about the courses one comes across without funding that are ideological?

On the whole, the piece seems to me more positively inclined towards the JMC and its programs than Prof. Deneen lets on. Surely the mere mention of the JMC-ISI connection, which doesn't strike me as irrelevant to the issue being discussed, doesn't move the article into the realm of a hit-piece?

The courses that the JMC helps develop are indeed rigorous and rarely carry the ideological overhang that some critics, suggest, which is a credit to the professors and grads who teach them.

However, it is difficult to dispute that these course are often "sold" as having a net ideological impact (which is to say, inclining the nation's academic youth, inch by inch, to the ideological right) to big bucks donors who ultimately pony up for them.

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