Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Israel’s strike into Syria

At Thursday’s press conference, President Bush declined "to discuss an Israeli airstrike in northern Syria on Sept. 6 that Israeli officials say hit a nuclear-related facility that North Korea was helping to equip."

And then this: "Mr. Bush’s remarks — a relatively rare instance of a president flatly declining to comment — also reflected the extraordinary secrecy here in Washington surrounding the raid. Most details of what was struck, where, and how remain shrouded in official silence.

A day earlier, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli opposition leader and former prime minister, became the first public figure in Israel to acknowledge that an attack even took place. Until now the only public information about the raid has been a muted and vague diplomatic protest from Syria that Israel had violated its airspace and a condemnation by North Korea’s Foreign Ministry of what it called ’a very dangerous provocation.’

In a television interview on Wednesday evening, Mr. Netanyahu said: ’When the prime minister takes action in important and necessary matters, and generally when the government is doing things for the security of Israel, I give it my endorsement. I was party to this matter, I must say, from the first minute, and I gave it my backing, but it is still too early to discuss this subject.’"

"Asian dynamism"

Robert D. Kaplan opines in yesterday’s New York Times that the "ultimate strategic effect of the Iraq war has been to hasten the arrival of the Asian Century." Whether Iraq is the cause (any of the philosopher’s four) is not really the point ("hasten" may be correct). The point is that the Pacific Ocean is already a very busy place, and it will become very interesting, and dangerous, and the cause of that danger, despite Kaplan’s attempt at indirection, is China. The good news out of all this? Kaplan’s side point that we need more multilaterialism is too opaque. We have made allies with India (one of the Bush administration’s least noticed achievements) and we have very good relations with Australia and South Korea (I would also add that our good relations with Mongolia is related to the China problem). Furthermore, we have not discouraged the Japanese from rearming; and they are. But it is likely that my children’s yet unborn children will have to deal with China’s rise, in Asia, both in water and land. Save this essay.

Marriage, as Herr Kant would have it

Gabrielle Pauli, or, "Bavaria’s most glamorous politician -- a flame-haired motorcyclist", said that "she wanted marriage to expire after seven years and accused the CSU, which promotes traditional family values, of nurturing ideals of marriage which are wide of the mark." For seven different reasons, I refrain from commenting, but could not stop myself from bringing it to your attention.

The Dark Hills

Here is E.A. Robinson’s The Dark Hills. Have a good weekend. I’m going for a ride.

Iran and the others

I think that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York is much less interesting than what he is up to in the Middle East, even though Bill Kristol is right and everyone should boycott his Columbia talk. What really worries me is that

Charles Krauthammer’s ruminations on Iran and Syria and North Korea (etc.) are close to the truth of things.

Disgraceful Senate Democrats

Over at Anchor Rising, a Rhode Island political blog to which I contribute, I have a few things to say about the "no" vote of our two senators against yesterday’s Senate resolution to condemn the odious NY Time ad attacking Gen. Petraeus. NLT has a link to the site. Here is what I had to say.

National Politics

Shame on You, Sen. Reed

Posted by Mac Owens

Yesterday the Senate passed a resolution condemning the disgraceful "General Betray-Us" ad in the NY Times sponsored by the despicable The resolution reads:

To express the sense of the Senate that General David H. Petraeus, Commanding General, Multi-National Force-Iraq, deserves the full support of the Senate and strongly condemn personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all members of the United States Armed Forces.

The resolution passed 72-25. The "no" votes were all Democrats, including both Reed and Whitehouse. I expected as much from Whitehouse, a lightweight on military and defense affairs if there ever was one. But why in the world would a West Point graduate like Reed who touts his military service take the side of an odious nest of vipers like over his fellow soldiers? Jim Webb may oppose the war but he had the decency to vote in favor of the condemnation of But Jim Webb is an honorable man. Would that Reed had an ounce of Jim’s spine. Reed on the other hand puts me in mind of Churchill’s "Boneless Wonder."

The US taxpayers wasted a great deal of money on Reed’s West Point education. They ought to demand a refund. Say, I have an idea. Why doesn’t reimburse the American taxpayers for that education? After all, if is going to buy a US Senator it should be expected to pay full price.

Am I angry? You bet I am. Reed has dishonored himself and his state. Shame on you, Senator Reed. What a disgrace!

Robert Kaplan’s Understanding of Journalism

Robert Kaplan is doing a fascinating interview on his new book, Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts as I write this. Check Hugh Hewitt’s site later this evening or early tomorrow for a transcript. The book sounds terrific, of course, but I am even more interested in his description of his craft. He describes his kind of writing as more reminiscent of the old travel guide style of writing--that is, it is more descriptive than "investigative" in the style of Woodward and Bernstein. A whole generation of journalists have come up thinking that the point of their craft is to "uncover" or report on a "story;" showing the inconsistencies or discovering a problem. And, of course, there is an important place for such journalism. But it is not the only kind of journalism worth doing. There is also a need for the kind of descriptive reporting that Kaplan does. It provides the kind of context that leaves us ignorant in its absence. Journalists of the first description should be required to read more of Kaplan’s kind. Kaplan’s style is more leisurely even than that of an embed--he takes a month or more to really get into the minds and workings of his subjects. His description, for example, of the affinity between a seaman or an airman with his ship or aircraft is the kind of brilliant insight an ordinary reporter would need years to develop any kind of appreciation for without some kind of serendipity. And, as he shows, this affinity explains so much of what they do that it is hard to overstate it. It also explains a lot about the differences between those two branches of the military and the other branches. Kaplan describes what he sees, thinks about what he sees, and allows insights to develop organically rather than inserting them into the pages of a story written on a tight deadline. In short, I like him. I was interested in this book before I heard this interview. Now I’m going to buy it and his Imperial Grunts.

UPDATE: The transcript can be found here. But it is a pretty long read, so if you prefer to listen go here.

Kristol on Columbia and Ahmadinejad

Bill Kristol writes a telling commentary on the moral confusion that sadly typifies today’s American university. Would that he were inventing this story . . . it could not be more insane.

Malkin on Sally’s Field

I didn’t post about Sally Field’s embarrassing display at the Emmy awards before because I thought it was a bit unfair. I mean, she really showed herself to be in pretty much the same place she was intellectually as she was in the days of filming Gidget. Why pile on? I actually felt sorry for her.

But Michelle Malkin didn’t pull any punches in this latest--which rather proves (in itself) that Sally is a fool. I like Malkin’s take on the matter--even if it extrapolates a bit. There is something to her description of the two kinds of mothers: sheep and lions. She sees herself in the tribe of the lions and I’m sure that is true.

But I think I differ just a bit with Malkin’s neat juxtaposition in that I think some of the most vicious and nasty people I have ever met are precisely the sheepish mothers she describes. Their precious infants can do no wrong. Try to insinuate otherwise. Just try to suggest that perhaps they ought to--heaven forfend--spank their little darling for mouthing off to grown ups assisting their teachers. Believe me, you will see some fangs. If the mothers of the world actually ran the world (well, one might argue that we do run the world indirectly) . . . but if we ran it in the way Sally Field wishes we would, not only would there be just as many wars as there are now . . . they might be more vicious. Tribalism has its roots in the family. Who, in general, is a more staunch partisan of a particular family or tribe? Mothers or Fathers?

History Lessons and Civic Literacy

Recent posts by Joe about civic literacy, as well as Schramm’s mention of the lesson plans we’ve been developing for the NEH, leads me to share this anecdote.

The project is finally winding down, and we’ve been asked to have teachers test the lessons in their classrooms. The folks at the NEH helpfully provided a form for teachers to complete, most of which was reasonable. However, I reacted viscerally to one of the questions on the form: Did your students gain a broader understanding of how historians use a range of evidence to craft narratives explaining the past and its significance for the present and the future?

Well, I don’t think teachers would be able to say yes to that question for any of the lessons we’ve done. I don’t believe that history should be taught in high school for the purpose of showing what historians do; it’s only (at best) a secondary function of what I see as my role in teaching undergraduates.

Why? Because practically no high school students--and only a tiny percentage of college history majors--are going to become professional historians. Those that intend such a career will undoubtedly learn the finer points of the craft in graduate school. For me, the reason why students need to know history is to make them better citizens--there’s that "civic literacy" thing again. They will better understand their society, and their responsibility as educated citizens in it, by knowing the past--both of the United States and, more broadly, of Western Civilization. If the role of high school history is to hone their skills in "crafting narratives" based on multiple sources, then the subject matter is purely secondary. It doesn’t even have to be true--certainly one could use Tolkein’s various books to write a pretty interesting narrative about the history of Middle Earth.

If John Dewey and his acolytes are right, and education is about learning skills, rather than facts....well, let’s just say they’d be better off learning how to "frame a wall" (whatever that means) then learning to "craft narratives."

Don’t Taze Me, Bro

By now most of you probably have seen thispathetic (but still pretty funny) video of the young man from the University of Florida who rambled on and disrupted the illustrious Senator, John Kerry during a speaking engagement on Monday. Since then, the student and the video have been the butt of many a talk show host’s joke--and some say this may have been his intent all along.

Whatever may be the facts in this case--whether he planned to get on TV or whether he actually was disturbed by conspiracy theories regarding John Kerry’s membership in that "evil" organization for world domination, Skull and Bones, I don’t know. But his behavior and that of Code Pink at last week’s hearings with Petraus--aside from being great comic relief--tell us something important about the left. They point to a kind of childish petulance in them.

Forget all the arguments about "free speech"--who was denying this young gentleman the freedom to talk? He asked many questions--and in a most rude and irritating way. He was tolerated far too long. The audience is clapping in the video--not because they like him or his questions--but because someone is finally doing something to shut him up. His line of questioning was going no where and it was time for him to sit down and yield the floor to someone else. When someone has been invited to speak, as was John Kerry, the members of the audience do not have the freedom to shout him down and deprive the rest of those present the opportunity of hearing him speak. Only the left could imagine such a right. One may, of course, say whatever he likes about the speech on his own time. But the freedom of speech surely does not guarantee one the right to an audience.

But this is to be expected from a generation raised by children of the 60s. When we learned about the freedom of speech, it was always in the context of those protest marches of our parents. We were not taught anything about civil and enlightened discourse--rather it was always about marching around shouting with signs and looking menacing. That’s what I remember from every textbook I ever encountered on the "freedom of speech" question. It was either that or porn.

I remember well my freshman year in college and my first, last, and only experience with protesting. I joined the College Republicans (that’s probably shocking, I know) and a group of freshmen members were suckered, I mean recruited to go and protest outside of the local office of the district’s Democratic Congressman about proposed tax increases. Being young and inexperienced, I thought this was what politics was all about so I was eager to join the effort. The handful of us spent several hours diligently working on signs and slogans. We marched down to the office (since none of us had cars--this took awhile) and we stood outside of the office holding signs and encouraging passing cars to "honk" if they didn’t want their taxes raised. Of course, most people "honked"--but what else came of it? Eventually, a staff person for this Congressman approached our band of protesters and began peppering us with questions. He cited facts and figures, statistics, and quotes from leading politicians and so forth. We attempted to argue with him on the basis of principle, but we were too green. We were just kids and we really didn’t know anything. Our instincts were correct, but we needed ammunition. There had to be a better way of going about this thing. We knew we were beat.

When I went home that evening I had a pile of neglected homework facing me. I gulped down a hasty dinner and calculated that I had spent something like 10 hours that week on this fool’s errand when I could have been learning something instead. So I decided that at 18 years of age, I probably had to do a bit of thinking on things before I again attempted to swim among the sharks. I needed better gear and, more important, a different method. Shouting and marching were pretty ineffective when push came to shove. Our College Republicans never planned another protest (as least while I was there) and instead, we focused on inviting speakers, learning about the issues, and well--to put it bluntly--growing up. I realize that the right has its share of protester/activist types, but there is a reason why you don’t see too many "tazer boys" on our side. At some point, most of us learn that this kind of thing is a game for kids.

Education and the art of living

Anthony Kronman, a law prof at Yale, has some thoughts on how higher education understood as research is no longer able to shape souls, why higher education is spiritually impoverished. It no longer asks the big questions, it no longer addresses the students capacity to wonder at the world and themselves. It no longer seduces them to love thinking about the hardest and the most important things. While the article is imperfect in too many ways to mention (and will be obvious to any reader), yet it is worth reading. Perhaps his book will be too.  

Do you know the way to San Jose?

I’m trying to put together a roundtable on ISI’s civic literacy report for the APSA’s annual conference on teaching and learning, to be held in San Jose, CA, February 22-24, 2008. If you’re interested, please let me know ASAP, as the deadline is coming up next week. I think I might be able to entice a couple of people from ISI to join us in a conversation about the report and its implications.

Joe Klein on Drudge

Today, Joe Klein runs a blog entry entitled "Why Drudge is a Disgrace." Here is what he says:

I know this is old news, but this guy is shameless. The headline, with a photo of a three-quarters crazed Hillary, is HEALTH INSURANCE PROOF REQUIRED FOR WORK but the linked story says this:

At this point, we don’t have anything punitive that we have proposed," the presidential candidate said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We’re providing incentives and tax credits which we think will be very attractive to the vast majority of Americans."

She said she could envision a day when "you have to show proof to your employer that you’re insured as a part of the job interview — like when your kid goes to school and has to show proof of vaccination," but said such details would be worked out through negotiations with Congress.

How stupid does he think we are? Answer: Extremely dumbolic.

Now, it is clear that the article does not say that Hillary’s plan includes these proof of insurance checks yet, and therefore the headline is a bit misleading. But it is equally clear that Hillary actually favors these kind of proof of insurance checks, and that she would be willing to try to make this part of her plan if she could work it out with Congress. So it would have been better if Drudge’s head simply said: "Hillary Supports Requiring Proof of Health Insurance to Work." That would have been more accurate, and it would have shown how, to borrow Mr. Klein’s erudite word, dumbolic Hillary’s views really are on this issue.


I don’t know how I did it but somehow, I beat Hayward to the punch in pointing out that today is "Talk Like a Pirate" day. I take my guidance from Steve the Pirate in my favorite movie, Dodgeball

The NYT Stretches the Truth Again

As a professor, I receive a free subscription to TimesSelect, which gives me access to the NYT’s subscription-only op-ed page. Today, I received this email:

Dear TimesSelect Subscriber,

We are ending TimesSelect, effective today.

The Times’s Op-Ed and news columns are now available to everyone free of charge, along with Times File and News Tracker. In addition, The New York Times online Archive is now free back to 1987 for all of our readers.

Why the change?

Since we launched TimesSelect, the Web has evolved into an increasingly open environment. Readers find more news in a greater number of places and interact with it in more meaningful ways. This decision enhances the free flow of New York Times reporting and analysis around the world. It will enable everyone, everywhere to read our news and opinion - as well as to share it, link to it and comment on it. . . .

Like anything written by the NYT, a little fact-checking is in order. The NYT did not launch TimesSelect back in the early-Al-Gore-invention-days of the Internet, but rather just 2 years ago. Accordingly, it is not credible to say that the Internet has evolved to become more open in any meaningful sense since the advent of TimesSelect. Rather, as the NYT’s VP tacitly concedes here, the real reason behind the change is that the NYT made a bad business decision with TimesSelect--that is, they could make considerably more money by relying on ad revenue rather than restricting access to their op-ed content.

I don’t expect them to disclose their profit motives in an email canceling the service. But their excuse seems particularly lame and transparent, particularly given the fact that they didn’t need to give a reason at all.

Is Fred in Over His Head?

Dick Morris provides a lot of evidence that he is. Certainly Fred has looked strangely clueless so far when not relying on a prepared text. My own view is that he’s smarter than he’s sounded, and he might still get himself up to speed. He needs to work very hard and very fast, because he really, really wants to be president. According to Dick, the only plausible Republican candidates are McCain and Giuliani, because the only plausible Republican issue is being tough on terrorism. He also thinks Hillary will probably win. I agree with him on the the latter point, but not the former.

Popular, Practical Manliness

Here’s POPULAR MECHANICS’ list of 25 skills every man should know. I know about 4 of them. If Dr. Pat is right that our techno-prosperity is on the eve of destruction, I don’t have much of future.

A Study Shows

...that what scientific studies claim to show is more likely to be false than true.

Belgian National Identity Is Toast

Not that anyone really cares that much, but relations between the Flemish and the Walloons have turned uglier than ever.

Civic literacy again

Here’s a story on this report, which you can download from the site. You can also take the quiz.

There is arguably a connection between civic literacy (whether or not this quiz assesses it) and civic engagement (what I might call self-government). Many institutions, including my own, are eager to promote civic engagement. Is there a similar eagerness to promote civic literacy? Do we assume that engagement encourages literacy, or vice versa?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Update: Jon Schaff: what he said. I too scored 58 of 60, though my mistakes were in the economics section.

A Berry Good Blog

Here’s a blog started by some Berry College government majors on the upcoming election. You will enjoy the rather extreme Republican partisanship, as well as the attempt to broaden the ethnic appeal of "O’Bama." Please contribute!


I had a conversation with David Tucker on his book United States Special Operations Forces, just published. A good conversation, about thirty minutes. Good book on a critical topic; thanks to Tucker and his co-author, Christopher Lamb.


Liberals are apparently permitted to criticize the private lives of homosexuals who take some conservative positions, and to call the toleration of this private behavior by other conservatives hypocrisy, at least if this screed is any indication.

Is Heath Care a Winning Issue for Republicans?

According to one expert in winning, Karl Rove, it is. But only if the Republicans have a bold, market-based alternative to HillaryCare that addresses the legitimate criticisms of our present system. Opinion on this issue, in my view, is sliding in the Democratic direction, and mere "Be very afraid" criticism of Hillary will be ineffective.

What Another Study Shows...

Scientists have discovered a part of the brain that doesn’t like to be poked.

An Augustinian response to Lilla

Our friend (we have lots of them) John von Heyking sends along this Augustinian response to Lilla’s argument and commends the conference at which it was presented. The response deserves to be read.    

The Alexander Hamilton Institute

Disinvited from the campus of Hamilton College, The Alexander Hamilton Institute has reappeared nearby, with impressive plans for the future and a rather distinguished group of people associated with it. What was it that Kanye West said?

Nobody Here But Us Incrementalists

Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago law school says that John Paul Stevens: a) was at the Supreme Court’s center in 1980, with four justices more conservative than he was and four more liberal; b) is the most liberal justice on the Court in 2007; and c) this change came about not because Stevens made “any significant change in his own approach, but because of a massive shift in the Court’s center of gravity.” Sunstein deplores this massive shift: Both “the Court and the nation benefit from a range of views and approaches, and something has gone badly wrong if the Court has a strong right wing without any real left.”

Sunstein’s position on the idea of the Court reacquiring a real left wing, however, is a little difficult to pin down. On the one hand, he calls William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, the two justices farthest to the left of John Paul Stevens in 1980, “visionaries, offering a large-scale sense of where constitutional law should move. . . . They wrote in clear, bold strokes . . . [and] their opinions pressed the Court toward moderation . . . ” On the other, Sunstein’s essay has an obligatory “to-be-sure” paragraph, which says “the Court does best if it proceeds cautiously and incrementally, with respect for the elected branches of government. Marshall and Brennan, no less than Scalia and Thomas, tried to use the Constitution to impose a contestable political vision on the nation.”

It would not be hard to compile a list of cases where Marshall and Brennan disdained both caution and elected officials in order to impose their contestable vision. Roe v. Wade would be at the top of the list. Sunstein numbers himself among the liberal constitutional scholars who believe Roe was wrongly decided, if I correctly understood remarks he made at the recent American Political Science Convention. He has also, if memory serves, written of his misgivings about Missouri v. Jenkins. In that 1990 decision the Court upheld the gold-plated school reform plan imposed by a district judge, designed to achieve racial balance in the Kansas City school district by making all the schools magnet schools, irresistible to white suburban families. The Supremes also ruled that the voters of the city had no right to vote thwart the judge’s sweeping plan by voting against the 100% increase in property taxes it required .

The decisions where Marshall and Brennan didn’t get their way are as scary as the ones where they did. Had the visionary duo found one more vote, the Court would have ruled, in Milliken v. Bradley, in favor of a school busing program that would have sent children careening around the entire Detroit metropolitan area like black and white ping pong balls. Similarly, they were one vote away from a majority to rule the Hyde Amendment unconstitutional in Harris v. McRae. Their position was an extension of the logic of Roe: just as the Constitution forbids state legislators from outlawing abortion, it prohibits Congress from defunding it, as long as there’s a Medicaid program that funds lots of other surgical procedures. (The centrist John Paul Stevens was one of the dissenters who agreed with Brennan and Marshall on this point.)

I don’t know Prof. Sunstein’s position on these cases. However he might have voted, I think there is a legitimate question whether his desire for a “range of views and approaches” on the Court has more to do with convenience than principle. I don’t recall, that is, any liberal scholar or journalist worrying 30 years ago that something had gone badly wrong in a Court with a strong left wing but no real right. The sudden discovery of the benefits of a balanced Court strikes me as no less asymmetrical than the liberal position on the importance of precedent, which boils down to the position that conservatives have a moral duty to uphold past decisions that liberals like, and liberals have a moral duty to overturn past decisions conservatives like.

I’m unaware of Prof. Sunstein’s career plans, though assume that every prominent constitutional scholar believes he would be flattered by black robes. In the event that he is nominated to the federal bench by Pres. Hillary, and in the event there are any Republicans left on the Senate Judiciary Committee to make things interesting, I hope someone will ask him to elaborate on the idea that William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall are liberal heroes with whom modern liberals fundamentally disagree.

Judge Edith Jones

The Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit, Edith Jones, gave our Constitution Day talk. It was very good. You should listen to it. With conversation it’s about an hour and ten minutes long.   


In addition to being Constitution Day, September 17 is the anniversary of the bloodiest day in American history. On September 17, 1862 near Sharpsburg, Maryland, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac suffered combined casualties of nearly 26,000, including nearly 5500 dead. Although tactically a draw, the fact that Robert E. Lee had been turned back after a string of victories beginning in the spring permitted Lincoln to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which changed the character of the war. I wrote a piece on Antietam as part of my series on the Civil War for Ashbrook. It is here

Ashbrook Center

New Web Site on the Ratification of the Constitution

Today is Constitution Day. It is the 220th Anniversary of the day in 1787 when the United States Constitution was signed by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention and sent to the states to the ratified. Here at the Ashbrook Center, we celebrate the Constitution all year long. But on Constitution Day, we always do a few special things.

Today we are launching a new web site on the ratification of the Constitution. This great site is the result of the work of Professor Gordon Lloyd of Pepperdine University and of Roger Beckett. The site is by far the best Internet resource on the ratification of the Constitution.

This new site tells the story of the out of doors debates over the Constitution in pamphlets and in newspapers by the Federalists and Antifederalists. It is the story of the indoors debates in the thirteen state ratifying conventions and the formal struggle over whether the proposed Constitution should be approved.

The site contains an extensive timeline of the events related to the ratification of the Constitution and a map showing the Federalist/Antifederalist vote across the thirteen states. There are introductions and day-by-day summaries of the state ratifying conventions in Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York. Also available is the full five-volumes of Jonathan Elliot's Debates in the Several State Conventions, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution. There are biographies of the leading founders in each state involved in ratification, and in case you ever get lost, there is an overview table with links to every major part of the site.

This is not only the most comprehensive site on the ratification, it is also the clearest, with wonderful introductions and explanations provided by Gordon Lloyd.

Like everything we do, it is useful for teachers, students, and citizens alike. I encourage you to visit the site at:

Categories > Ashbrook Center

The Constitutional Convention

On this Constitution Day, don’t forget to take a look at our web site on the Constitutional Convention. Also working with Gordon Lloyd, this web site has become known as the finest resource available on the Constitutional Convention. (It’s rather popular too. Type Constitutional Convention into Google and ours is the first site that appears.) In addition to the many other features on the site, you can see Gordon Lloyd’s summary of what happened on this day 220 years ago as well as Madison’s Notes of the Debates on September 17, 1787. And don’t miss one of the highlights of the site, the interactive painting showing the Scene at the Signing of the Constitution.

Ashbrook Center

Lesson Plans on the Constitutional Convention

For the past three years, John Moser, Associate Professor of History at Ashland University, and the Ashbrook Center have been working with the National Endowment for the Humanities to produce lesson plans for their EDSITEment web site. Today the NEH is launching three of those lesson plans on the Constitutional Convention. Written by Christopher Burkett, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Ashland University, and Patricia Dillon, an AP US History teacher at Tug Valley High School in Williamson, West Virginia, the three lessons cover The Road to the Constitutional Convention, The Question of Representation at the 1787 Convention, and Creating the Office of the Presidency. You can also view all of the lesson plans created by the Ashbrook Center as a part of this project.
Categories > Ashbrook Center

Happy Constitution Day!

Today is Constitution Day. You can read some stories about this brand new holiday--celebrated only since 2004--here and here.

Here’s a rather depressing survey focusing on the state of high school students’ First Amendment knowlege, a companion to the survey about which I blogged here. (Here is a copy of the survey form; unfortunately I can’t at the moment get access to a full survey report.)

Last (and perhaps least), the kind folks at The American Spectator Online have generously posted a short piece I wrote formalizing some of the thoughts I posted here last week. This new survey confirms my thought that we have a long way to go in our efforts at civic education.

Berkowitz on Lilla

Peter has the first smart and penetrating review of Mark’s book so far. A book that doesn’t really come to terms with Strauss or do justice to America can’t be all good. As I said before, there’s a third, non-stillborn alternative to political theology and Hobbesian political philosophy that gives both religion and politics their due, and our Founders’ (certainly imperfect but real) illumination by that alternative elevates them and their Constitution above what Lilla admits is simplistic and humanly unsatisfying Hobbesian psychology. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Allan Bloom in the NYT

This essay in the NYT (hat tip: Stanley Kurtz) suggests both that the multiculturalists won the "canon wars" and that it was a Pyrrhic victory (although one of the results is that apparently few students would have a clue about who Pyrrhus was). Focusing on the study of literature (and not really on either core curricula or other "humanistic" disciplines), the essayist suggests that the smaller proportion of students who major in English are exposed, above all, to the idiosyncratically specialized tastes of their professors, at the expense of a larger and deeper cultural awareness. Having been educated in a similar system themselves, the professors are apparently incapable of fleshing out the horizon in which students could situate their contemporary reading.

Time out, as one of my illustrious grad school professors used to say, for an anecdote. Speaking with a group of freshmen earlier this semester, I quoted the line, "Whatever doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger." "Oh yeah, someone responded, that’s so-and-so [I can’t remember the name of the evanescent contemporary cultural icon he cited]." "Actually no," I responded, "that’s Nietzsche."

One conclusion one might draw from the NYT’s line of argument is that an effort to inculcate students in something resembling the traditional canon (not worshipfully, but thoughtfully and critically) might actually "sell" better than the alternative, the result of which is to let increasing numbers of students slip away from the humanities to more lucrative and less apparently frivolous fields of study. There is, I think, a cultural and civilizational price to be paid for this flight. I wonder if we can recover some of what we’ve lost by trying to remember how to teach what we’ve forgotten. My experience at Oglethorpe, which has had a "Great Books"-oriented Core Curriculum for quite some time, is that many students come to be quite fond of it an quite proud of what they have come, through great difficulty, to know.

The military and society

Jay Bookman, a liberal editorialist for the Atlanta paper (I almost don’t need the adjective), offers a relatively interesting piece on professional military reactions to the public distance (not exactly uninterest, but certainly not intimate involvement) from the Iraq War. He quotes from this article, which strikes me as worth reading. The passages Bookman cites about the importance of involving the populace more directly in any future commitments of military force are sertainly important (and Bookman doesn’t refer to the author’s argument that the inevitable future commitments will be even more complicatd than those in Iraq and Afghanistan).

But this one is also worth noting:

Perhaps the most decisive factor that will determine
who emerges victorious in current and future wars is which side can gain consistent advantage in the holistic information environment that plays out across the globe, near and far from the “front lines.” In short, the commander who prevails in the information war is almost certain to win the war itself. Perception has a nagging tendency of determining how our enemies, our allies, and our own societies view war, often regardless of what is actually happening on the ground. If we are unable to do a better job than our enemies of influencing the world’s perception, then even the most brilliantly conceived campaign plans will be unlikely to succeed.
I wrote about this issue some time ago, and am glad to see that people are still thinking about it.

Apocalypse tomorrow

Our friend Eduardo Velasquez, author of this book, will appear on this call-in radio program tomorrow (Monday, September 17th) at 3 p.m.

Mark Lilla’s big book

Here’s a not terribly deep or interesting Sunday NYT review of Mark Lilla’s new book by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein.

I eagerly await something more penetrating.