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E-Pluribus | January 20, 2022
Will progressives learn the lesson on the school closure catastrophe, one library's 'diversity audit', and conservatives need liberalism.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Jonathan Chait: School Closures Were a Catastrophic Error. Progressives Still Haven’t Reckoned With It.
“Follow the science” has long been a progressive mantra, but the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed their selective application of the principle. Jonathan Chait, no conservative himself, writing for New York Magazine, no conservative publication, calls on progressives to learn from their mistakes, and even more basic, admit that one was made.
In the panicked early week of the pandemic, the initial decision to close schools seemed like a sensible precaution. Authorities drew on the closest example at hand, the 1918 Spanish flu, which was contained by closing schools.
But in relatively short order, growing evidence showed that the century-old precedent did not offer much useful guidance. While the Spanish flu was especially deadly for children, COVID-19 is just the opposite. By the tail end of spring 2020, it was becoming reasonably clear both that remote education was failing badly and that schools could be reopened safely.
What happened next was truly disturbing: The left by and large rejected this evidence. Progressives were instead carried along by two predominant impulses. One was a zero-COVID policy that refused to weigh the trade-off of any measure that could even plausibly claim to suppress the pandemic. The other was deference to teachers unions, who were organizing to keep schools closed. Those strands combined into a refusal to acknowledge the scale or importance of losing in-person learning with a moralistic insistence that anybody who disagreed was callous about death or motivated by greed.
Social scientists have measured the factors that drove schools to stay closed last year. One study found schools with unionized teachers, more of which were located in more Democratic-voting districts, were more likely to remain all virtual. Another likewise found “local political partisanship and union strength,” rather than the local severity of COVID, predicted school closing.
Read it all.
Faith Bottum: What Does a Library’s ‘Diversity Auditor’ Do?
It is difficult to read “Office of Inclusive Excellence” and resist the urge to assume one has stumbled on a parody, but Faith Bottum reports in theWall Street Journal about New York’s Bard College where such an office exists and is heading up a project to “[decanonize] the stacks,” a phrase which also evokes skepticism. While the college insists books will not be removed based on the audit, a lack of clarity remains over the end result of the exercise.
Bard [College] recently announced that three undergraduates, funded by the Office of Inclusive Excellence, are working their way through Stevenson Library, “evaluating each book for representations of race/ethnicity, gender, religion, and ability.”
The point of the audit at Bard originally appeared to be picking books to remove. The announcement in Notes, the library’s newsletter, described the project as a first step in “the process of decanonizing the stacks”—academic jargon for breaking the connection to the past. A follow-up from the staff seemed to suggest that the eventual aim is a major deaccessioning (to use a librarians’ term: litotes for getting rid of books).
A representative of the library, however, later said in an email that was forwarded to me that the project was designed “to increase our understanding of our collection, not to remove books.”
This leaves unspecified the reason the information is being gathered in the first place, but the librarian waved away the students funded by the Office of Inclusive Excellence, stating that actual librarians will decide about the library’s collections, not student workers.
And perhaps this audit is merely a sop to activist students and diversity administrators. But it does seem at least a surrender to the idea that content is determined by the extraliterary characteristics of the author. And if the audit does include content, the result could be a straightforward Index of Prohibited Books—even if, as seems unlikely, the librarians aren’t pressured eventually to act on the information that the students catalog.
Read the whole thing.
Yascha Mounk: The Conservative Case for Philosophical Liberalism
Yascha Mounk of Persuasion recently interviewed Harvey Mansfield, a conservative Professor of Government at Harvard University where Mansfield has just hit a remarkable six-decade teaching milestone at that institution. Among a variety of topics, Mounk talks with Mansfield about the nature of American liberalism, how classical liberalism is not incompatible with conservative principles, and how conservatives must resist the influence of Donald Trump to prevent further illiberal drifting.
Liberal democracy means democracy with liberties. That means rights which are guaranteed against majority interference. The problem in a republic is not so much minority exploitation, as majority exploitation. “Faction” was the word which is used in the Federalist, or “tyranny of the majority,” in Tocqueville. I think those who best understand democracy fear its tendency to uproarious, overbearing majorities. That's the main problem, and the reason it's the main problem is that a majority tyranny looks like a majority justice, or even a majority view of the common good. Those two things need to be distinguished and made operable, and you make them operable with the usual devices of constitutionalism: separation of powers, bicameral legislature, federalism. Plus the Bill of Rights, which are amendments to the Constitution. Don't forget the Constitution itself. All those things are, I think, still valuable and we shouldn't endanger them, much less throw them away.
The problem that the conservatives are dealing with is their sense that they are losing, that conservatives can't win. And that, in the first place, I think, is exaggerated. It’s like a remark made by Yuval Levin: the liberals think they're losing, because they're not winning the economic issue—capitalism is thriving and they care less that they're winning the cultural values question. Whereas conservatives are the opposite: They think they're losing because they're losing on the culture, and they forget that they're winning on economics, to which they attach somewhat less importance.
So each thinks it’s losing, because it's losing what it most wants. But if you look at those two things—economics and culture—that just goes back to the two rights in Locke: economics, private property; and culture, toleration. I think we're still within the liberal mantra. And we should hold to it and, I think, perhaps we would a little more if we understood it better.
Read it all here.
A short thread from Wesley Yang on the corruption of language:
The Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism weighs in on the denial of a charter for a proposed Emory University School of Law student group:
And finally, a short back-and-forth over “post-liberal” between Kmele and David Reaboi: