The Republican Party has become the Southern Party. Or so we’ve been told ad nauseam, at least since Richard Nixon launched an effort wean disaffected whites from the Democratic Party. There’s more debate about the chronology and causes of the South’s realignment than many people realize: the wonderfully named Sean Trende argues that it began long before 1968 and had more to do with urbanization than than with race. For some critics, however, the electoral map is irrefutable evidence that the Party of Lincoln has become the Party of the Confederacy (plus the mountain West, which no one ever talks about).
But it may not always be that way. As the outcomes in 2008 and 2012 showed, the Upper South is much more competitive than it used to be. Virginia leans blue. And North Carolina is up for grabs.
Larry Sabato offers an intuitive but nevertheless interesting explanation of what’s going on (h/t @jbouie). Using data from the 2010 census, Sabato observes that states that have experienced big declines in the number of voters who were born there (the “nativity rate”) tend to turn blue. That’s largely because minorities, whether from foreign countries or other states, are more likely to move than whites. They are also more likely to be Democrats.
Virginia, whose population has also been transformed by the growth of the affluent D.C. area, has been the pioneer of this change. North Carolina is following a similar pattern. Based on current trends, Georgia’s nativity rate is likely to drop below 50 percent within the next decade or so. If that happens, and if Sabato’s right, it may again become possible for Democratic presidential candidates to win there too.
The loss of the Upper and Coastal South would be bad news for Republicans. On the other hand, the correlation between high nativity rates and support for the GOP means that the Republican stronghold may be shifting to the Midwest, which attracts few new residents but still commands a pile of electoral votes.
Consider the irony of such a scenario. Republicans have lost ground in North and gained it in the South partly because their appeal is concentrated among whites. But the South is becoming far less white than it used to be, partly because of immigration and partly because its weather and lower cost of living have made it an attractive destination for domestic relocation. As a result, Republicans are beginning to struggle there, just as they do in the more diverse Northeast and West Coast.
So could the GOP return from Southern exile to its origins in the Midwest? Doing so would refute the geographic argument that it’s the party of the Confederacy. But that’s mainly because the Confederacy ain’t what it used to be.
As Jordan Bloom mentioned yesterday, Corey Robin has a provocative essay on the connection between between Nietzsche and the “Austrian” economists in The Nation. The piece is titled “Nietzsche’s Marginal Children”, as if Menger, Mises, Hayek and Schumpeter were Nietzsche’s direct heirs. The actual argument is more subtle: “the relationship between Nietzsche and the free-market right…is thus one of elective affinity rather than direct influence, at the level of idiom rather than policy.”
According to Robin, both Nietzsche and the Austrians saw value as a subjective commitment under conditions of constraint rather than an objective contribution by labor. For this reason, they endorsed agonistic social relations in which individuals struggle to express and impose valuations to the limits of their differential strength, while rejecting egalitarian arrangements that attempt to give producers a fair share of the value they have generated. Although he was most interested in philosophy and art, Nietzsche also described the conditions necessary for cultural renewal as “great politics”. For the Austrians, by contrast, the marketplace was the setting for contestation over value.
Like Robin’s argument in The Reactionary Mind, this interpretation is bound to appeal to leftists who are already convinced that there’s something sinister about conservative and libertarian thought (see the comments at Crooked Timber here). But it has serious problems, which Brian Doherty and Kevin Vallier have already begun to point out.
For one thing, there’s nothing unique to Austrian economics about the subjective theory of value. As Robin acknowledges, the foundations of the so-called marginal revolution were laid by the Frenchman Walras and the Englishman Jevons, as well as the Austrian Menger. That wouldn’t matter if the influence of these writers had been especially strong in the milieu that eventually produced Mises and Hayek. But in fact, almost all modern economists, whatever their theoretical or political orientation, accept some descendant of Walras, Jevons, and Mengers’ arguments. What’s more, Robin generally ignores the technical mathematical background of the marginal revolution, which he presents primarily as debate in moral philosophy. That decision obscures the most important cause of the transformation of economic thought in the 19th century: the demand that economics become a science on the model of physics.
Robin is also evasive in his chronology. He acknowledges that “[a]round the time—almost to the year—that Nietzsche was launching his revolution of metaphysics and morals, a trio of economists [Walras, Jevons, and Menger], working separately across three countries, were starting their own.” But he doesn’t deal explicitly with the possibility that this temporal coincidence makes any connection between Nietzsche and marginal economics circumstantial.
It’s true that Hayek and his Austrian contemporaries received the new theories of value in economics in a cultural context influenced by Nietzsche. But that tells us nothing about those theories’ original inspiration—let alone their truth. In any case, the fact that marginal economics became dominant in a setting where Nietzsche had little or no influence, such as the British academy, suggests that the heroic individualism he so brilliantly articulated was by no means a necessary condition of the transformation of economics. And given the variety of reactions to Nietzsche in the 20th century, it’s clearly not a sufficient one.
It’s also crucial to remember that Nietzsche was not the only 19th century thinker who challenged the leveling tendencies of democracy and socialism. On the contrary, this concern is among the major themes of Tocqueville, Carlyle, Mill, Kierkegaard, Burkhardt, Freud, Dostoyevksy, and Pareto, to name only a few. Robin knows too much to ignore these names, some of which occur in the piece. But Robin’s focus suggests that they served, at most, as adjuncts or supplements to Nietzsche.
Robin’s central error, in other words, is an uncritical acceptance of Nietzsche’s evaluation of himself as a “fate” rather than an articulator, however brilliant, of ideas that were very much in the air of the 19th century. In this respect, Robin shows an odd affinity for Leo Strauss, who tended to reduce intellectual history to a decontextualized dialogue among great thinkers.
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry has compiled a list (warning: NSFW language) of the functions of higher education, ranging from promotion of cultural literacy to provision opportunities for mating, with much in between.
The list not exhaustive: although economic mobility has declined in recent decades, higher education still offers important opportunities for advancement. And some of the items could be clarified. For example, universities soften market pressures on intellectuals in some ways. But they certainly don’t eliminate them. Still, thinking about what universities are for, both in aspiration and in practice, is an important step toward meaningful reform.
Gobry’s contribution is to remind us that American universities are expected to complete an amazing number of tasks. It’s not very controversial to observe that that’s a recipe for mediocrity across the board. Universities would probably do a better job if they concentrated on a few key areas.
The problem is that there’s little agreement about what universities’ core competencies actually are. Students want them to emphasize personal growth and amenities; the faculty favors pure scholarship and graduate education; politicians want job training and economically productive research; and so on. None of these constituencies “owns” the university. On the other hand, none can simply be ignored. As a result, nothing much gets done.
These crosspressures are endemic to the modern “multiversity”, as it was described by University of California President Clark Kerr. Rather than pursuing comprehensive changes, then, reformers should look for ways to disaggregate the various tasks and associations that make-up the universe of higher education. Although they won’t be to everyone’s taste, there’s nothing illegitimate in principle about most of the items on Gobry’s list. But he’s right to suggest that they can’t and shouldn’t all be pursued within a single institution.
Sure it is, at least according City Journal‘s Steve Malanga. The Democrats have won convincingly in five of the last six presidential elections. But Malanga argues that those outcomes conceal the growing strength of the GOP in the states:
Since Obama first took office in 2008, Republicans have picked up a net nine governorships, bringing their total to 30 states, which hold nearly 184 million Americans. In 24 of those states, containing 157 million Americans, Republicans also control the legislatures. Democrats boast similar power in just 12 states, with a population of 100 million. Even Republicans’ unimpressive national showing last November didn’t reverse their state-level momentum.
The impressive number of Republicans in American statehouses is a matter of simple fact. Yet it’s curious that Malanga virtually ignores other simple facts: many of those governors won office in the Tea Party election of 2010, and are extremely unpopular today. The stars of Malanga’s long account of the “rise of Republican governors” include Michigan’s Rick Snyder, Florida’s Rick Scott, Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, Maine’s Paul LePage, who won blue states on conservative platforms in 2010. Although they’ve have had some legislative successes, however, all of these governors face long odds of retaining their seats.
There are exceptions to this bleak prospect, most notably New Jersey’s Chris Christie. As Malanga acknowledges, however, Christie’s popularity is partly attributable to his partnership with Obama and criticism of the national GOP in response to Hurricane Sandy. And Republican governors are struggling even in solidly red states. Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, for example, has an approval rating in the high 30s that reflects widespread opposition to his signature plan replace the state income tax with a sales tax.
Considered in broader context, there’s little evidence that the GOP has a growing base of support in the states that could eventually be transformed into a national majority. So what accounts for the high number of Republican governors? A big part of the explanation, as Jamelle Bouie observed in connection with GOP’s likely win in Virginia this year, is that the electorate in gubernatorial elections tends to be smaller, older, and whiter than the electorate in presidential years. In short, Republicans win elections in which Republican constituencies are more likely to vote. This was particularly true in 2010, when Republicans mistook a demographic aberration for a national wave.
Republican success in the states, then, is perfectly consistent with continuing Democratic control of the presidency. One party is rooted in a dwindling but highly motivated base. The other dominates the broader electorate that turns out in big years. This dynamic means that Republicans will remain local players no matter what happens in Washington. The demographic source of their state-level strength, however, also threatens to lock the party out of the White House.
In today’s Wall Street Journal, Michael S. Roth, the president of Wesleyan University, argues that students get real benefits from Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Based on his experience teaching a MOOC on “The Modern and the Postmodern” for Coursera, Roth maintains that these benefits aren’t limited to the acquisition of technical skills: MOOC students can also engage in deep study of classic philosophical authors such as Rousseau and Kant. The op-ed is behind a paywall. But here is Roth’s conclusion:
Teaching this MOOC has shown me that online courses will be increasingly viable and valuable learning options for those who can’t make their way to campuses. Taking a course online is clearly not the same thing as integrating study with residential experience, but it is a powerful mode of learning that is already enriching millions of lives across the globe.
It’s probably an exaggeration to say that MOOCs are enriching “millions of lives”. But Roth provides anecdotal evidence that at least some of the nearly 4000 students who completed his course (of about 30,000 who registered) learned something from it.
The problem is, these were not the kinds of students that we should worry about helping. Roth’s anecdotes of positive engagement with course involve “a graduate student in the Netherlands”, “[a]nother adult student, in Germany”, and “[a]n American woman…taking the class with her husband and two other couples; all had Ph.D.’s”. In other words, Roth offers reasons to believe that MOOCs are a nice diversion for highly educated, highly motivated adults in rich countries. That’s fine, but no justification of all the excitement about MOOCs as an alternative, or even a meaningful supplement, to more traditional forms of higher education.
So what about students in this country who haven’t already earned a college degree? Peter Sacks offers a more realistic vision of the MOOCified future:
Well-off students will attend the few colleges and universities that are wealthy enough to eschew standardization and automation. They alone will have real relationships with great faculty. A second, less wealthy group of students will use online courses for their general education and attend “authentic” institutions for a short while. For poorer students, online learning could well become the main course. They will attend institutions that, strictly speaking, grant post-high school credentials to the coach class.
I don’t know if this scenario can be avoided. But I’m certain that it’s nothing to be celebrated. As the president of a rich college that serves mostly rich students, Roth can afford to offer free edu-entertainment to an international audience. But one wishes that he’d considered the consequences for the less fortunate institutions and students who dominate higher education here at home.
On a slow day several months ago, I wrote a post describing my love of traditional American clothing. Although it attracted some criticism for being pretentious, the post was intended to be gently self-mocking. I’d be delighted to see more of the Ivy League Look on the streets. But I don’t really think it matters to the fate of civilization.
But the horror in Bangladesh reminds me that there are moral reasons to prefer clothes manufactured using traditional methods in America or Western Europe to trash shipped in from low-wage countries. No one gets rich sewing jackets or cutting leather. But workers in what remains of the American garment industry are far more likely to earn a living wage in safe conditions than their competitors abroad.
That’s one of the reasons I like to buy from makers like Mercer and Sons, Alden, and Southwick, among others. Considerations of taste aside, I value the fact that their products are made by craftsmen in factories that have been located in the same New England towns for years, and sometimes generations.
I realize that these companies sell luxury products whose prices are out of reach for many. But the same is true of goods offered by big chains that rely on foreign sweatshops like the one that collapsed this week in Dhaka. So if you have the option (which is more likely when it comes to tailored clothing than basics like T-shirts) and can afford to spend a few more dollars, wouldn’t you rather buy something made in America? The Bangladesh disaster reminds me how much I would.
Communitarian conservatives (frequently, though not always, traditionalist Catholics; Ross Douthat is a pretty good contemporary example) often criticize libertarian types for complicity in the “atomized individual” part of the destructive dynamic Nisbet was talking about, or, more practically, for promoting a political message that repels voters who don’t view “altruism” as immoral or who may anticipate needing external help at some point in life. Indeed, you sometimes get the sense that Randians and “traditionalists” hate each other more than their common liberal enemy.
Despite these disagreements, Kilgore concludes that “if you boil off the philosophy and look at actual public policy issues, you have to wonder if this is often a distinction without a difference.” He poses two questions to communitarian conservatives:
(1) whether “private groups” (or, as Republicans often argue, state or local governments) are actually adequate to deal with inequality and poverty and illness and other social problems, even if government chips in with some tax credits or other incentives, and (2) whether empowering these “intermediating institutions” involves risks to liberty that we are all familiar with from their long reign in human history.
To put it another way, if people in need (or indeed, nations in need) can no longer turn to the most efficient means available to meet collective challenges, this thing called democratic government (ideally self-government), then does it really matter if they are then helplessly consigned to the market’s wealth-creators or to the “little platoons” that regard them as objects of pity and opportunities for good works? Isn’t that “dependence,” too?
These are good questions that deserve more extended responses than I can offer today. But here are some suggestions that might help begin the discusion:
(1) The answer to this question depends on the meaning of “we” and “deal with”. Kilgore’s restatement suggests that he thinks the main agent of political life is the nation itself, or perhaps the national government. It also indicates that we should pursue “solutions” to the problems of inequality, poverty, illness, and so on.
But communitarian conservatives dispute both claims. Our argument is that many social problems are actually local problems. As such, they are often more better dealt with by local authorities and institutions than by the national government.
Take education. If we look at aggregate statistics, there’s a serious “collective” problem here. But that’s misleading. In fact, public schools in some states, such as Massachusetts, are excellent. Schools in others, such as Mississippi, are terrible. It’s not clear to me why the low quality of public schools in Mississippi is a problem for citizens of Massachusetts. Rather, it seems to be the responsibility of Mississippians to fix their own schools.
Of course, the citizens of Mississippi may not agree that there’s a problem, or may choose not to to address it in the best way. Having never visited the state, I really have no idea. But leaving decisions to the people who know the most about the situation and are most affected by it is the essence of self-government. Put differently, Washington is not the focal point of American democracy. Read More…
What do I have to do to get a review in The New York Times? More than a few frustrated authors have asked this question, posing it in some cases to their agents and and in others to a tumbler of whisky. There may be no a single answer. But it certainly helps to have famous name and the connections that often go along with it.
Even so, the extent of the coverage recently devoted to Nathaniel Rich has drawn attention. According to The Times‘s Public Editor Margaret Sullivan:
It’s beginning to feel like Nathaniel Rich Month at The Times. The author’s new novel was reviewed in the Arts section on April 10, then again in the Sunday Book Review on April 14. Mr. Rich also wrote an essay for the Sunday Book Review, with many references to that novel, “Odds Against Tomorrow.” In addition, the Editors’ Choice section of the Sunday Book Review listed Mr. Rich’s novel second on its list.
Back in January, Mr. Rich and his brother were also the subjects of a feature story about literary families. (His father is Frank Rich, the former Times columnist; his mother is Gail Winston, an executive editor at HarperCollins; his brother is a comedy writer, a novelist and a regular contributor to The New Yorker.)
This looks like a obvious case of nepotism. Tom Scocca explains, however, that there’s something more subtle and interesting going on. Rich’s book may be good (I haven’t read it). And, as the profile makes clear, he has evidently worked hard at his craft. But that’s not enough to explain Rich’s unusual success:
Relationships and knowledge are what the writing-and-culture business runs on. Some of it is cultural capital—knowing what to do and how to do it. Frank Rich’s children were exposed, at an early age, to the actual specific process of professional writing: deadlines, pitches, writing to length. Jewelers raise jewelers; plumbers raise plumbers. Cal Ripken Sr. and Bobby Bonds brought up their children around professional baseball. Johann Sebastian Bach produced musicians.
But some of it is social capital—who you know, and what they can do for you. People look out for the interests of people they know, even without anyone picking up a phone and telling them to. Disclosure: I was going to write about the profile of the Rich brothers when it first came out, for somewhere other than Gawker, but that place revoked the assignment because it didn’t want to be potentially unkind to Nathaniel Rich.
This isn’t the explicit favoritism of the old-fashioned Establishment, which often reward pedigree rather than competence. Instead, it’s a very contemporary form of advantage that coexists with the meritocratic principles of the new elite. Under this regime, rewards are available for “achievers” of any background. But it just so happens that the children of people who are already successful know how to achieve the most–and whom to inform of their accomplishments.
In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville coined the term “mild despotism” to describe the tutelary state that might replace monarchical tyranny. By the same token, we might describe as “mild nepotism” the informal networks of privilege that have replaced formal aristocracy.
Mild nepotism would not be a big deal if it were confined to publishing. But it’s also a fact of life in finance, academia, and the upper reaches of the legal world. These fields are open, in principle, to all. In practice, however, they are dominated by those who have been outfitted since childhood with the skills and contacts they’ll need to do well in the right schools, find the right jobs, and, when the time comes, to welcome others very much like themselves inside the magic circle.
It must be understood that all this will happen without any intention to play favorites. It’s only that there are so many impressive applications to consider, so many qualified candidates to interview, so many fine books to review. And unfortunately there’s space for just one…
We can acknowledge the reality of mild nepotism without endorsing coercive measures to end it. As Hayek argued, it would require a despotism of truly terrifying proportions to eliminate the cognitive, cultural, and social inequalities that emerge in any free society. But the attention lavished on Nathaniel Rich by The New York Times is an amusing and therefore useful reminder of the way that meritocracy functions as the legitimating myth of the modern ruling class. Do you think The New Yorker would run a piece on that? Can you give me the number of your friend who works there?
New York magazine has a disturbing story on relations between Ultra-Orthodox Jews and the rest of the population in the western part of Rockland County, New York. The Ultra-Orthodox began moving to the area in the 1970s. Since then, they’ve grown to a majority in the town of Ramapo, where they control a local school board.
This wouldn’t be a problem if the Ultra-Orthodox had much interest in secular education. But they send almost all of their children to religious schools and generally see public schools as a burden to be reduced as much possible. So the board of education has closed schools and cut staff and services to the bone.
What’s particularly striking is that the board members quoted in the piece make little effort to justify these cuts, even as a response to the district’s ongoing fiscal crisis. Consequently, they are seen as a deliberate strategy to drive the non-Orthodox residents out of the area. The board members’ view is that they won the elections, fair and square. As the former chairman put it, “You don’t like it?…Find another place to live.”
Contributors to The American Conservative, myself included, often defend local control against the centralized decision-making. The developments in Rockland County illustrate a weakness of that position. Local control is attractive when citizens of a particular jurisdiction have a shared understanding of their interests, which may be different from those in neighboring towns, counties, and so on. It can get ugly when they are internally split between fundamentally opposed goals.
The tension is heightened by the separatist orientation of Jewish community in Rockland County. The New York piece speaks generically of Orthodox Jews. That is misleading because the sects that dominate Ramapo are distinctive in their hostility toward secular society, which includes, in their view, adherents of other forms of Judaism as well as gentiles.
So what’s to be done? Opponents of the board may have a legal remedy if they show that the district is failing to provide the “sound basic education” that the New York Court of Appeals has held to be required by the state constitution. That could be challenging, however, because this standard requires that students be prepared for civic participation, but not that they made be attractive to competitive colleges.
There is also a pending lawsuit that accuses the board of fiscal mismanagement. If successful, it could lead to increased oversight. Another option would to convince the state to take direct control, as requested by a petition by angry residents. But the influence of Ultra-Orthodox voters, who are avidly courted by New York politicians, make this effort unlikely to succeed.
In addition to their practical disadvantages, all these possibilities are essentially centralizing. The challenge for conservatives who are sympathetic to local self-government but concerned about the tyranny of the majority is to find approaches that give students the opportunity to get a decent secular education without surrendering to the state.
That’s where school vouchers might come in. Education reformers often argue that vouchers will improve performance. But the more powerful justification is that they help resolve disagreements about the purposes of education–and of government more generally. Although the situation in East Ramapo is extreme, the tension that it reflects will only become more frequent as our common culture fractures. Rather than fighting for control of a single education system, we should figure out ways to let all students go to schools that best suit their intellectual, religious, and cultural needs.
I wrote a post earlier this week on the National Association of Scholars’ report on the condition of the American liberal arts college, represented by Bowdoin in Maine. I was critical of the study, which I found rhetorically provocative, intellectually shallow, and generally unsympathetic to reasonable concerns about social inclusion. Despite these criticisms, I share many of the ideals highlighted by the NAS statement of purpose. The argument of the post was that the Bowdoin report won’t do much to promote them.
Bowdoin’s president Barry Mills offered a response. Fairness demands that it be subjected to the same level of scrutiny as the NAS report. It doesn’t stand up very well. Mills refutes a narrow interpretation of the report’s more exaggerated claims. But he evades some serious issues that they raise.
Mills begins by denying that Bowdoin is anti-American. He points out, among other things, that its campus includes several memorials to American war dead and that its public events include moments of ceremonial patriotism.
All this is true, as a simple Google search reveals. But it is also beside the point. Bowdoin cannot escape its heritage and does not attempt to. The real question is whether these tributes are anything more than photo opportunities. As Mills acknowledges, it’s “important that we honor America through memorials and music, but most important is what we teach our students about this nation and its traditions.” So what does Bowdoin teach?
According the NAS, the answer is: not much. In particular, they observe that Bowdoin does not require students to take any course in American history, that Bowdoin offers no general survey of American history, and that “there are no courses devoted to political, military, diplomatic, or intellectual history except those that deal with some group aspect of America.” Read More…