Why Not Go All the Way?

Is Trumpism a monstrous reality-show perversion of true conservatism? Or has Trumpism merely exposed the true racism and anti-intellectualism lurking in the heart of American conservative thinking? Historian Seth Cotlar raised these questions again in a recent Twitter thread. Can Never-Trump conservatives like David Frum take bitter solace in the notion that Trumpism has trumped true conservatism? Or must all conservatives recognize that Trump is nothing more than their movement’s Smerdyakov? The back-and-forth highlights a fundamental truth about conservatism—and political punditry in general—that doesn’t get enough attention.cotlar tweet

Let’s start at the beginning: Professor Cotlar draws attention to the fact that conservative thinkers did not suddenly in 2016 start to mouth muddle-headed and shamelessly demagogic notions. As Cotlar shows, back in the 1990s Newt Gingrich was fond of taking obviously ridiculous positions for political gain. And Cotlar mentions the longer history. Back in the 1950s, Cotlar notes, conservatives were making similar Trumpish noises.

All true and fair, IMHO. Not only for conservatives, but for progressives as well. Not only since the 1950s, but throughout the twentieth century, conservatives and progressives both struggled to define themselves. Conservatives and progressives both wondered how to draw meaningful boundaries around their movements. Was it “progressive” to support Stalin’s purges? Was it “conservative” to indulge in feverish conspiracy theories about the Warren Court?

Indeed, instead of ever thinking about “true” conservatives (or progressives) fighting against “pretenders” or “RINOs,” we need to recognize the obvious historic fact that there IS no such thing as a single, real conservatism (or progressivism).

All we have ever had is a cacophony of contenders for the label. At some points in history, say in the mid-1950s or mid-1990s, conservatives might have rallied around a particularly charismatic or compelling vision of what they wanted conservatism to look like. In the end, however, the history of conservatism is only a history of a battle to claim the mantle of “true” conservatism in the face of the many contenders.

Consider just a couple of examples from the twentieth century. In the 1920s, for example, the revived Ku Klux Klan made a serious play to represent mainstream conservative thinking. As I argue in my book about educational conservatism, national leader Hiram Evans hoped to use the mainstream issue of public education to transform the reputation of the Klan. Yes, the group was racist, xenophobic, and bigoted. And yes, plenty of Americans felt uncomfortable with the Klan’s reputation for vigilante violence and secret ritual. In spite of that reputation, Imperial Wizard Evans hoped—with good reason—that he could reshape the Klan’s reputation as the bastion of “true” conservatism.

Zoll, Progressive Education Increases Delinquency

Is this “real” conservatism?

In the 1950s, too, conservatives battled for the right to be considered the “real” conservatives. Time and time again, radicals such as Allen Zoll warned residents of Pasadena, California that left-wing conspirators planned to brainwash children in public schools. As Zoll wrote in one widely circulated pamphlet,

We had better stop smiling. There IS a conspiracy.

To non-conservative journalists, Zoll’s hysterical, bigoted rhetoric captured the tone of American conservatism. They assumed that Zoll’s claims to be a conservative spokesman should be taken at face value. So much so that they were often surprised to meet different types of conservative thinkers. For instance, one of the conservative leaders of the 1950s school controversy in Pasadena was Louise Padelford. Padelford was no less strident than Zoll when it came to combatting progressive trends in education. Her tone was worlds removed, however. As one journalist wrote in surprise when he met her, Padelford had

clear blue eyes that look out at the world with wide-open frankness; her ear is keen, her wit quick, and her smile enchanting.

The journalist’s surprise might seem silly to anyone familiar with the true complexity of American politics. There’s no reason why a conservative can’t have a quick wit and an enchanting smile. At the time, though, to one journalist at least, to be “conservative” meant to be Zollish and trollish.

Time and again, conservatives throughout the twentieth century battled to claim the title of the “real” conservatives. Was it mild-mannered but strident Ivy-League PhD Louise Padelford? Or was it rabble-rousing pamphleteer Allen Zoll?

As Professor Cotlar points out, it has always been both. Not just since the 1990s, but throughout the twentieth century. And if we want to make sense of the tension between self-proclaimed Never-Trump conservatives and foolhardy Trumpish demagogues, we need to go all the way.

Namely, we need to recognize that there has never been—NEVER—a single true conservative movement. Not in the offices of the National Review. Not in the hard drive of David Frum.

Conservatism, like all keywords, has always only been a prize up for contention.

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I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

I’ve been up to my eyeballs lately in Joseph Lancaster’s archival papers. Every once in a while I’ve had to come up for twenty-first century air. When I did, these were a few of the stories that caught my eye this week:

Jim Loewen at HNN: Dinesh D’Souza lied about my work.

Can Christian bakers refuse same-sex weddings? The SCOTUS decision at RNS.

no gays allowed TNWill Queen Betsy drive progressive reformers away from charter schools? Peter Greene hopes so.

What’s next for teacher strikes? At T74.

How Chicago schools failed to protect students from abuse, at CT.

Ouch: Tennessee hardware store puts up a “no gays allowed” sign. At USAT.

Ah Ha! Proof of Liberal Profs!

HT: VB

Everyone knows college professors are a liberal bunch, right? A new study from Harvard University, a school just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, seems to confirm this beloved stereotype. But is it really proof?

First, some background. As the sophisticated and good-looking regular readers of I Love You but You’re Going to Hell (SAGLRROILYBYGTH) are well aware, the notion that the professoriate skews liberal is a deeply held culture-war notion. Conservatives decry it, even pushing through a mandatory conservative chair at Colorado University. Even perspicacious liberal thinkers worry about it. Historian Jonathan Zimmerman of New York University, for example, has suggested that true intellectual diversity requires some sort of affirmative action for conservatives.

It is not a made-up phenomenon. As Neil Gross argued in his new(ish) book, Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care?, there really does seem to be a tilt toward liberalism in higher-ed faculties. Not because liberals are smarter (sorry, liberals), and not because conservatives suffer from discrimination (sorry, conservatives), but because historical patterns have pushed more liberals into the profession.

An article in the Harvard Crimson describes the political donations of the faculty. Turns out, those faculty members who give money to political parties tend to give almost only to the Democrats. In the Arts & Sciences faculty, the majority tipped a whopping 95.7% in the direction of the Democratic Party, compared to a measly 3.7% who gave to the Republican Party. Things were a little more balanced in the Business School, with 36.7% of donations going to the GOP. In some departments, such as the Graduate School of Education, a Brezhnevian 100% of donations went to the Democrats.

Should we worry?

If we hope for a system of higher education that pushes students to think critically about a range of issues, should these numbers cause us to consider home-colleging our students? Both for us liberals and our conservative colleagues, is it time to think about creating a better sense of real intellectual diversity on college faculties?

I think not, for a couple of reasons. First, as both the Crimson article and Professor Gross’s book insist, a tilt toward the Democratic Party does not equate with a rigid groupthink. From the history of the culture wars, we can see proof that conservatives do very well in schools dominated by liberal faculties.

Leading young-earth creationist Kurt Wise, for example, studied under the vehemently anti-creationist Stephen Jay Gould at Harvard. Both scholars reported a cordial and productive relationship. Dr. Wise is not alone. For generations, leading conservative scholars, intellectuals, and pundits have done just fine in schools with liberal-leaning faculty. From William F. Buckley Jr. at Yale to Dinesh D’Souza at Dartmouth, nerdy conservatives thrive in elite colleges.

Perhaps the explanation can be seen in the work of sociologist Amy Binder. Binder and a colleague studied conservative students at two elite colleges. Binder argued that conservative students are certainly shaped by their environments. But at both a large western public flagship college and an elite eastern one, conservative students honed and shaped their conservatism, rather than being groomed away into liberal ideologies.

More important, perhaps, is the fact that almost nobody actually attends the elite colleges that culture-war punditry focuses on. Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Colorado, Brown, NYU…perhaps the faculties on these schools tip heavily in a liberal direction. But very few students go to these schools. Of the young people who go to college, many more of them go to less-fancy places.

My hunch—and I’d love for someone to get some numbers to back this up or refute it—is that the faculty at less-elite colleges tends to be more politically and culturally conservative. From the field of teacher education, I have heard anecdotes that suggest it’s true.

The Crimson article gives us some proof, but not about higher education. Rather, all we see is that Harvard faculty tip liberal. Harvard may have plenty of influence, but it doesn’t actually do much. Though the alumni might bother people with their smug self-satisfaction, there really aren’t too many of them around.

Spelling and Vaginas: Have We Lost Higher Education?

Are new culture bullies taking over America’s college campuses? Jonathan Chait argued recently that today’s college campuses are suffering a new, more aggressive bout of political correctness. For those of us interested in higher education and America’s culture wars, Chait’s essay raises different questions: Have colleges and universities become hopelessly monolithic? Can students really learn anymore, or will they only be drilled in leftist platitudes?

Like Chait, I’m not asking this as a conservative, but as a liberal. Like Chait, I want college campuses to include a heady mix of ideas. I want students to see and hear a broad range of philosophies, many of which they will disagree with.

Chait catalogs some of the anti-liberal recent occurrences on elite campuses:

Speakers are cancelled; plays are cancelled; lecturers are shouted down. In many high-profile cases, it seems that leftist students are dedicated to blocking any speech they find distasteful. This kind of neo-Comstockery, Chait argues, is a far greater threat to liberalism than any right-wing speaker or writer could possibly create. It has created, as one professor told Chait, an “environment of fear” on college campuses.

Chait explores the way this sort of destructive cultural politics has ranged far beyond college campuses. Those interested in the strange unspooling of America’s culture wars should certainly read his essay in full. But this morning I’d like to ask a slightly different question: What is the relationship between conservatism and mainstream higher education?

It is not as simple as it might seem. Though many conservative intellectuals continue to insist that Chait’s Red-Guardism has squeezed out thoughtful conservatism at many colleges, the truth is more complex. It’s not true that college students these days can’t be conservative. Ironically, the campus climate Chait deplores seems to strengthen some students’ identification as conservative. It does seem, though, that students less committed to a conservative ideology will feel pressured to avoid provoking the wrath of the campus left.

First, there is ample evidence that conservative students are made MORE conservative in college. Sociologists Amy Binder and Kate Wood recently released their findings of conservative students at two elite universities. In each case, they found that conservative students tended to become more conservative at these purportedly leftist universities.

Beyond that, for students who identify as conservatives, there have long been prestigious schools outside of the mainstream that welcome and nurture conservative cultural values. As I’m finding in the research for my new book, conservative evangelicals have a wide choice of colleges that serve as comfortable intellectual homes for conservatives. Often, these schools also embrace political conservatism.

Finally, we have piles of anecdotal evidence that conservatives are often made more conservative by leftist campus environments. Most famously, William F. Buckley Jr. launched his career with an angry memoir about his student days at Yale. Dinesh D’Souza similarly served first as a conspicuous college conservative at Dartmouth. Less famous conservative students have shared similar experiences.

Given all this evidence, it’s not fair to say that conservative students aren’t allowed to be themselves. In spite of what conservative leaders say, conservatism has not been shouted out of American higher education. There is another problem, though. What about students who are not committed to conservatism? Is the climate on campuses today conducive to a true intellectual experimentation among earnest but undecided young people?

This is a much harder question to answer. In some famous cases, colleges have made efforts to include conservative intellectual role models for young people. The most extraordinary case has been that of the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Steven Hayward and Bradley Birzer have worked as visiting conservatives. At that school, students in the middle are guaranteed to have at least one committed conservative academic voice on campus.

In other cases, it seems as if conservatives really have been given the squeeze. The best example is the recent treatment of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. Intervarsity has been derecognized at leading campuses nationwide. For committed Christian students, it will not be difficult to find a comfortable conservative church near school. But for those who aren’t committed, the exclusion of conservative organizations such as Intervarsity seems to limit students’ opportunities to hear and experience a real range of intellectual and religious ideas.

Chait raises important questions about the goals and limitations of speech-policing on campuses. We need to remember, however, that high-profile cases of neo-PC thuggery do not mean that all universities have been taken over by the leftist thought police. The real situation is more complex. Conservative students and professors seem to thrive. However, those on the fence might be robbed of opportunities to hear more than leftist platitudes.

Do campuses today encourage a real mix of ideas?  What have been your experiences?  Those of your children?  Your students?

How Columbus Became Conservative

Christopher Columbus used to vote Democratic, but now he’s a leading voice among America’s cultural conservatives. Not the man himself, of course. But celebrations of Columbus’ life used to be lean to the left. These days, conservatives have become the leading celebrants. How did that happen?

What are the children learning about Columbus?

What are the children learning about Columbus?

In these United States, today is officially a federal holiday. Columbus Day was only established as a federally recognized holiday, though, due to the complicated politics of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s. Italian immigrants had long lobbied for recognition of their greatest ethnic hero. As Roosevelt cobbled together his powerful but shaky New Deal coalition, he couldn’t afford to alienate any urban constituency. Establishing a federal holiday was a politically cheap way to symbolize Roosevelt’s sympathy with Italian-American voters.

At the time, Christopher Columbus represented Italian pride. Columbus stood for the fact that Italy had produced world-beating explorers and scientists. By the early 1900s, of course, Italy had become a leading source of poor, sometimes-desperate immigrants to the United States. The image of Italian-Americans in the yellow press at the time had become one of poorly educated “garlic-eaters.” Columbus Day’s federal recognition in the 1930s represented both a repudiation of those stereotypes and a recognition of the increasing political clout of Italian-Americans in the Democratic Party.

Today, of course, Christopher Columbus has acquired entirely new meanings as a cultural symbol. Instead of representing the heroic triumph of Italians, Columbus has come to embody the culture war over the settlement of the Americas. On the left, Columbus personifies the nature of that settlement. To leading leftist historian Howard Zinn, for example, Columbus’ quest was for loot, and his method was rapine. As Zinn wrote in his popular People’s History of the United States:

The Indians, Columbus reported, “are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone….” He concluded his report by asking for a little help from their Majesties, and in return he would bring them from his next voyage “as much gold as they need … and as many slaves as they ask.” He was full of religious talk: “Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities.”

Because of Columbus’s exaggerated report and promises, his second expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men. The aim was clear: slaves and gold. They went from island to island in the Caribbean, taking Indians as captives. But as word spread of the Europeans’ intent they found more and more empty villages. On Haiti, they found that the sailors left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a battle with the Indians, after they had roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor.

Today’s leftist activists, too, hope to puncture the heroic legend of Christopher Columbus. As one described it, the main legacy of Christopher Columbus was to turn North America into a “crime scene.

In response, conservative intellectuals have tried to maintain Columbus’ place in the halls of heroes. As the recent controversy over the new Advanced Placement United States History framework has demonstrated, conservatives will unite against anything they perceive as a smear of America’s traditional heroes. For example, long before Dinesh D’Souza rolled out his recent patriotic film, he bashed the left’s tendency to bash Columbus. As D’Souza argued in 1995, Columbus had the moxie to cross a dangerous ocean. And Columbus may have misunderstood Native Americans, but he admired them. The violence came from the native side. As D’Souza put it,

While the first Indians that Columbus encountered were hospitable and friendly, other tribes enjoyed fully justified reputations for brutality and inhumanity. On his second voyage Columbus was horrified to discover that a number of the sailors he left behind had been killed and possibly eaten by the cannibalistic Arawaks.

For many conservatives, as for D’Souza, Columbus has come to represent more than just the beginning of the European colonization of the Americas. For conservatives, Columbus has become the poster child for the proper attitude toward the past. Historians on the left, many conservatives believe, have been very successful in spreading their anti-patriotic smears. The proper thing for conservatives to do, then, is rally around those symbols of traditional American exceptionalism.

Creationism, Conservatism, and the Common Core

What does creationism have to do with the newish Common Core Learning Standards? Some conservative activists and politicians are rejecting both in a knee-jerk attack on educational reform. In one new educational bill in Ohio, conservatives simultaneously threw out the Common Core and opened the door to creationism. But this isn’t just a question of creationism. Rather, this is a symptom of a broader conservative attitude toward public schooling.

Not just science, but history and literature are also targeted in this conservative educational power grab.

We first became aware of this new bill in Ohio thanks to the watchdoggery of the folks at the National Center for Science Education. The NCSE, naturally, worried first about the apparent opening of Ohio’s public-school science classes to intelligent design and creationism. Ohio’s House Bill 597 would insist on new standards that specifically “prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another.”  The sponsor of the bill, Andy Thompson of Marietta, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he included that language to allow school districts the freedom to include a variety of ideas about evolution, not to mandate that districts include intelligent design or creationism.

Representative Thompson wants the Common Core OUT and conservative curricula IN.

Representative Thompson wants the Common Core OUT and conservative curricula IN.

But the anti-Common Core bill also includes a broad-spectrum attack on the purportedly progressive nature of school curricula in other subjects as well. The original draft of the bill specified that 80% of the literature taught must be from American or British authors before 1970, though Thompson quickly backpedaled from that goal. But why was such a target included in the first place? As I detail in my new book, conservatives since the 1970s have looked skeptically at the trend toward “multicultural” literature. Conservative leaders from Max Rafferty to Bill Bennett have insisted that proper education—conservative education—must be based on the classics of our Western civilization. Anything else, they insisted, dooms children to a savage unawareness of their own cultural heritage.

In history, too, the Ohio bill insisted that history instruction include

the original texts and the original context of the declaration of independence, the northwest ordinance, the constitution of the United States and its amendments with emphasis on the bill of rights; incorporate the Ohio constitution; define the United States of America as a constitutional republic; be based on acquisition of real knowledge of major individuals and events; require the study of world and American geography; and prohibit a specific political or religious interpretation of the standards’ content.

Here also we hear echoes of long-time conservative worries. From Lynne Cheney to Dinesh D’Souza, it has become a commonplace of the conservative imagination that leftist history has taken over public education. As I argued recently in a commentary in History News Network, conservatives assume that students are taught that American history is the record of cruel white hate crimes against Native Americans, women, and African Americans. The Ohio bill hopes to rectify this America-bashing by mandating “real knowledge,” not just hate-filled Zinn-isms.

As we’ve seen time and again, conservatives are not united in their thinking about the Common Core. Some conservatives love them….or at least like them. Others blast the standards as yet another attempt at sneaky subversion from Washington.

In this new Ohio legislation, we see how some conservatives combine their loathing of the Common Core with a grab-bag of other conservative educational goals: Less evolution in science class, more America-loving in history class, and less multiculturalism in literature class. Taken together, conservatives such as Ohio’s Andy Thompson hope to broaden the anti-Common-Core juggernaut into a more ambitious conservative panacea.

 

The Movie that Will Save Our Children

A Florida lawmaker has offered a new definition of a summer must-see movie.  According to the Hollywood Reporter, State Senator Alan Hays has promised a bill that would force all public high-schools and middle-schools to screen Dinesh D’Souza’s America: Imagine the World without Her.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, D’Souza’s film seems to be another conservative exercise in shadow-boxing.  The film assumes that American history teachers are pushing an ideologically inspired hatred against the United States.  Historically, that just hasn’t been the case.  As I argue in my upcoming book, conservatives have exerted outsized influence over the kinds of history their kids learn in public school for decades.  The notion that schools have been taken over by a scheming cabal of sneaky progressive educators and historians just doesn’t match the historical record.

Nevertheless, it is a notion that resonates strongly with conservatives.  As Senator Hays put it,

I’ve looked at history books and talked to history teachers and the message the students are getting is very different from what is in the movie.  It’s dishonest and insulting. The students need to see the truth without political favoritism.

Ironically, Senator Hays’ plans might just prove the case.  As the Hollywood Reporter points out, Hays’ bill might actually pass, given the political landscape in Florida.  If it did, or even if it made a strong showing, it would demonstrate the continuing influence of conservative activism on public education.

 

America: Schools Taken over by Scheming Progressives

What sorts of history did you learn in school?  As I argue in a recent commentary published on History News Network, conservative thinkers and activists have often insisted that school history has been taken over by a scheming, America-hating, progressive history cabal.

It looks as if Dinesh D’Souza’s new film dives headfirst into that tradition.  In America: Imagine the World without Her, D’Souza denounces American education as woefully slanted.

In a recent interview about the film, D’Souza accuses even the best schools of teaching a “doctored account” of history.  Young people, D’Souza believes, have all been taught a skewed leftist history.  In his film, D’Souza hopes to counter this horrible history with a heroic counter-argument.

But as I found when I researched the twentieth-century history of conservative activism in the United States, I found that conservatives have exerted just as much influence over the nature of American education as have progressives.

So why do conservatives like D’Souza continue to insist that schools have been taken over by dunderheaded progressives?  If you want to read my humble opinion, you’ll have to check out the HNN essay.

Christian College Leader Admits Wrongdoing

Dinesh D’Souza broke the law.  He recently admitted it.  Some conservative pundits insist that his prosecution is politically motivated.  Is this the end for a spectacular conservative career?

Wunderkind Admits It

Wunderkind Admits It

The conservative Christian writer and celebrity has always had something of a tin ear when it comes to conservative evangelical culture.  A couple of years ago, for instance, he was ousted from his post as president of The King’s College when he appeared in public with a woman who was not his wife.

Nevertheless, D’Souza’s brand of high-sounding punditry has made him hugely popular among American conservatives.  His books and films, such as What’s So Great About Christianity and 2016: Obama’s America, have secured D’Souza’s place as a top name among conservative activists.

This week, D’Souza pleaded guilty to illegal campaign contributions.  In order to help the ailing fortunes of Republican Senate candidate Wendy Long, D’Souza set up “straw donors” in order to exceed legal limits on campaign donations.  In his plea, D’Souza agreed that this action was “wrong” and “stupid.”  He admitted that he knew his actions were illegal.  But he also complained that he was the victim of selective prosecution.

Other conservative pundits agree.  An editorial in the Washington Times lamented,

Whether guilty or not, the fact that Mr. D’Souza has been singled out for prosecution while others skate past freely reveals President Obama’s thumb on the famous lady’s scale.

Some conservative writers take a different line.  Writing in The American Conservative, Rod Dreher insisted that D’Souza must take his lumps.  As Dreher argued,

I have no trouble believing that D’Souza may have been selectively prosecuted. But even if he was, that does not justify his knowingly breaking the law. Does this really have to be explained to conservatives, of all people?  We can’t call for law and order, but carve out special exemptions for our political allies.

Does this spell the end for D’Souza’s career?  As a non-conservative, I would be surprised if any conservative institution were to clamor to be associated with D’Souza after this.  But I’ve been surprised before.

 

Celebrity to Nerd: New Leadership at The King’s College

Who will train a new generation how to bring America to Christ?

The leaders of The King’s College decided a nerd can do the job better than a celebrity.

After its unhappy breakup with headline-grabbing conservative icon Dinesh D’Souza, The King’s College will now be led by Southern Baptist theologian and administrator Gregory A. Thornbury.

Image Source: The King's College

Image Source: The King’s College

The bowtie-wearing, Carl-Henry-loving, religious-school administrating Thornbury seems to be the exact opposite of D’Souza, at least within the world of conservative Christian higher education.

Thornbury’s career has been squarely within the world of conservative evangelical higher education.  Before Manhattan and The King’s College, Thornbury served as the founding dean of Union University’s theology school.  His academic background as a philosopher with degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Messiah College puts him in a different league from the sometimes-fevered punditry of D’Souza.

Leaders of the evangelical establishment love him.  Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention called Thornbury “Jonathan Edwards meets Rolling Stone magazine.”

Thornbury himself seems to prefer the Jonathan Edwards part.  His recent book about theological Carl Henry hopes to make Henry “cool again.”  Unlike other leaders at The King’s College, who stress its Manhattan location as the ideal spot to influence mainstream American culture, Thornbury himself notes the location’s close ties to the strongest intellectual giants of American evangelicalism and conservatism, including Jonathan Edwards, Alexander Hamilton, and Carl Henry.

What’s next for The King’s College under its new president?  In the words of one enthusiastic King’s College alum, Thornbury will lend new life to The King’s College mission: “a counter cultural Christian college in New York City that leads with academic excellence and ‘convictional civility.’”