Discover more from PLURIBUS
E-Pluribus | September 14, 2022
A closer look at National Conservatism, school choice as racial justice, and the authoritarianism horseshoe.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
William Galston: What Is National Conservatism?
With the third annual National Conservatism Conference just over in Miami, William Galston at Persuasion takes a look at the movement that has grown so rapidly in recent years, making significant inroads not just in the Republican Party but on the right more broadly. Galston acknowledges some of the laudable aims and goals of National Conservatism, but warns of the dangers of yielding to the temptation of state power to bring about even good change.
National conservatives believe that if “woke progressivism” prevails, western civilization ends. All sense of limits—divine, natural, and moral—will disappear, to be replaced by a new absolute and unfettered autonomy that endlessly disrupts traditional patterns of gender and social relations.
National conservatives allege that the conservatives of recent decades have underestimated the gravity of this development. They have paid too much attention to freedom and not enough to virtue. They have fetishized limited government when the times require a stronger government that defends national traditions against cultural revolution, national economic interests against globalization, and national sovereignty against transnational institutions and universal norms.
While national conservatives reject what they call the “socialist principle”—that the state can plan and dictate economic activity—the line between socialism so understood and their own preferred policies is hazy. National conservative governments, they insist, must curb the excesses of the free market by using economic policy to serve the national interest. In specific circumstances this may require protectionism, limits on the activities of transnational corporations, and industrial policies to bolster manufacturing and national defense. It will also require extensive support for public research, but not through universities, which they call “partisan and globalist in orientation and vehemently opposed to nationalist and conservative ideas.”
[ . . . ]
National conservatives do not distinguish between the liberal political tradition and the excesses of today’s liberal culture. They see the focus on individual rights—and on the conceptions of equality and liberty that flow from them—as corroding traditional beliefs and practices. They are convinced that they must sacrifice the liberal baby to get rid of the progressive bathwater, and they are all too eager to do so.
Read it all.
Rachel S. Ferguson: Why School Choice Is the Racial Justice Issue Now
The education establishment and teacher unions often inveigh against school choice as unfair and harmful to equity in education, but Rachel Ferguson argues at Discourse Magazine that the exact opposite is the case. The state of public education and the way schools are populated based on geography has produced de facto segregation that often traps minority students in bad schools with no alternatives.
It’s easy for critics to assume that public school failure in our inner cities is about corrupt administrators or teachers who don’t care, but there’s a far more nuanced story to tell. Any school working with a destabilized population is going to face challenges that would intimidate most teachers and administrators. Destabilized neighborhoods rear children who are traumatized by high crime, sometimes underfed and physically neglected due to poverty and poor family structure, vulnerable to the familial promise of gang life and habituated to chaos. The one-size-fits-all approach of our public education system cannot possibly meet the needs of children facing such challenges. We need the freedom to experiment with creative approaches, and the ability for the good ideas to win and the bad ones to go out of business.
One of the most popular objections to school choice is that it’s a stalking horse for segregation. But considering that inner city schools are entirely segregated now, the real concern underlying this objection is not about uplift for impoverished minority children in the inner city, but about regulating middle- and upper-income people. As educational freedom takes hold, it’s reasonable to assume that some approaches may tend to be less racially diverse, especially if they align with particular cultural traditions or religious backgrounds that are less so. Statistically, though, alternative schooling has been shown (so far!) to move kids from less diverse to more diverse situations, on average. But even if some diversity is lost in the long run, it’s hard to argue that well-off kids getting more diversity should outweigh impoverished minority kids getting a decent education. If education is truly the key to social mobility, real solutions for poverty should always win out over a mere cultural preference.
It ought to be noted as well that one of the subtle insults hidden in the wording of the Brown v. Board decision—according to people of such wide-ranging backgrounds as the Brown family itself, critical race theory founder Derrick Bell and stubborn individualist Zora Neale Hurston—was the implication that Black kids just can’t learn as well unless they’re around white kids. Nonsense! Look at the examples given by Thomas Sowell in his book “Charter Schools and Their Enemies.” In one prominent case, a Black charter school with kids from humble backgrounds beat out far wealthier schools in performance, just as Sowell’s beloved Dunbar High in D.C. did back before Brown was ever decided. Furthermore, a truly pluralistic society does not mean having an exactly equal or proportional representation of each demographic in every situation. Instead, it means various cultural traditions flourishing freely, whether those be Lutheran schools, Afro-centric schools, fine and performing arts schools, crunchy granola homeschool co-ops or Muslim schools.
Read it all here.
Subscribe for FREE!
Stephanie Slade: Both Left and Right Are Converging on Authoritarianism
While the right has often pointed the finger at the left for relying too heavily on the power of the state, recent political, social and cultural developments have some on the right looking longingly at the power to rescue the country from itself. In a long piece for Reason, Stephanie Slade lays out how both sides of the ideological spectrum are too often agreeing that too many things are too important to leave up to Americans to decide on their own.
The point is not that either side is wholly unjustified in its motivating grievances. The left really has trained its guns on traditionalist Christians, for example, as the volley of ACLU lawsuits against religious hospitals makes clear. Social media platforms did, as if in lockstep, block a damning news story about Hunter Biden from being shared in 2020, thus choosing sides in the midst of a contested presidential race. And the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania did step in to unilaterally decree that absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should continue to be processed, piquing conservative suspicion about procedural irregularities surrounding the contest.
Meanwhile, the right really does seem woefully indifferent to, for instance, the lingering effects on black communities of three centuries of legally sanctioned oppression. Trump did begin priming his base to reject the outcome of the last election months before votes were even cast, to say nothing of his encouragement of the January 6 riot. And Senate Republicans did pivot shamelessly from refusing to hold confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland to rushing through approval of Amy Coney Barrett, leading many progressives to wonder why they should feel constrained by the norms of congressional process where their opponents manifestly are not.
But each side is using some legitimate complaints to build a permission structure for seizing power by any means necessary and raining down destruction on its foes. One result is a sort of bipartisan apocalypticism: A recent Yahoo News poll found that more than half of each major party believes it's likely that America will "cease to be a democracy in the future." Under these circumstances, extreme medicine can start to seem like the only logical response.
Read the whole thing.
Here’s Conor Friedersdorf, with not much disagreement from those chiming in on the inscrutable policies of Twitter dot com:
Via Heterodox Academy, the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West on “Why academic freedom challenges are dangerous for democracy”:
And finally, there’s government interference and then there’s unconscionable government interference. As Americans, one point everyone should be able to agree upon is that there should be no such thing as a federal rule setting maximum “personal consumption level” of cheese.