Weekend Linkage

Paleo Retiree writes:

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Right, Left, Center

Fenster writes:

The political terms “right”, “left”, and “center” mean different things depending on the context.  In a world where liberal–indeed neoliberal–values dominate these political categories have meant one thing, generally familiar to us.  In what has been termed a post-liberal world–which may or may not be emerging–they would likely mean something quite different.

M.T. Steiner probed the latter concept in a recent article in Quillette.

According to the political philosopher John Gray, . . . liberal principles assume that humans on a universal basis are individualistic creatures that are destined to experience progress along meliorist lines and create better, more egalitarian societies that value the equal worth of each person. As writers and thinkers from across the political spectrum start to look beyond these axioms, a number of commentators have attempted to identify and explain the core tenets of an emerging post-liberal politics. This new brand of post-liberal politics can be divided into three strands—one on the Left, one on the Right, and one in the Center—which are united by their shared divergence from the core tenets of liberalism to varying degrees.

There’s right wing post-liberalism.

Right-wing post-liberals believe that humans are, by nature, relational beings who are better suited to pursuing virtue within their own communities than falling prey to the false promise of universal progress. For this reason, right-wing post-liberals put duty and virtue ahead of rights and liberty, and they have a tendency to rely on state power to enforce these duties and virtues.

There’s a post-liberal center.

Centrist post-liberals are less anti-liberal than those on the Right. They agree with their right-wing counterparts that liberalism has fallen short of its promises. However, they leave a larger space for individualism and egalitarianism by balancing rights and duties in society—even if they do not fully embrace either of these liberal principles.

And a post-liberal left.

Left-wing post-liberals reconcile themselves with liberalism to a greater degree than their centrist and right-wing counterparts. Unlike those on the Right, they do not reject individualism and egalitarianism altogether and instead believe that individualist, egalitarian societies based on rights and liberties can thrive—so long as these rights and liberties are guaranteed by the state and contribute to a shared notion of the common good. In this sense, left-wing post-liberals believe that rights precede duties—even if social duties are still essential for a vibrant society.

I think this categorization has merit.  Though it is not quite new and different.  The cluster or left, right and center is just another manifestation of the Rule of Three: people tend to organize concepts in tension along a continuum, with our minds breaking that down into three.  It’s generalizable.

That does not make “left, right, and center” completely arbitrary.  It does suggest that when the ground shifts the relevant Rule of Three shifts with it.  In this case this means that the important thing is less the new division into three and more the nature of the shifting ground underneath.  Keep your eye mainly on that.

And when you do something new comes into focus.  The differences between left, right and center in Steiner’s article are not insignificant but there is less than meets the eye.  In all three cases the new political categories are dealing with an underlying problem: the perceived failures of liberalism, whether conceived in terms of the baleful effects of globalism and inequality or the sense of going way too far in the realm of individual autonomy.  All three of these categories are dealing with these underlying problems, with the only difference being the severity of the need to create distance from present certitudes.  How fast do we need to run from the current excess?

Moreover, there is a sense that while these categories are all about some gauzy post-liberal “future” they all represent a kind of Back to the Future.  Jeez, post-liberal centrism is likened to, of all people, Edmund Burke.

This emphasis on balancing liberty and responsibility in society echoes the social and political thought of Edmund Burke, who believed that humans inherit their rights and duties through their covenantal ties to those who came before them.

In this regard all three Back to the Future formulations suggest an underlying inconvenient truth about what passes for liberalism in the modern era: it is a rubber band stretched too far.  As the band reverts to a more comfortable shape under the threat of snapping we will be technically moving into the future but at the same time will be revisiting some familiar territory from the past.

So I see no huge reason to declare myself a member of the post-liberal right, center or left at this point.  Perhaps the author is wrong and the rubber band can go on forever.  But even if he is right–and I think he is–the main event is the underlying shift not the precise point you place yourself on it.  There’s some time for that.

Though if I were a Brit and I had to declare myself at this stage of the game I’d be either a Red Tory or Blue Labor.  They are hardly the same thing but they create a workable tension that can be managed.   It would be good for a change to have political ideas that are in a healthy tension with one another, a tension that might produce progress and not destruction.


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What Happens When Women Run Colleges?

Fenster writes:

“What happens when women run colleges?”  Could be just a provocative question.  Could be the opening line leading to a challenging set of discussions.  Could be a joke awaiting a punch line.

It is in fact the title of an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (link here to paywalled article, excerpts to follow).  The Chronicle is higher education’s most important and influential journal and, as such, the topic is covered in a fashion that reveals the culture and concerns of the higher education world.

But before diving into the article: a brief digression on some of higher education’s peculiarities, with a genuflect to the gender concerns that are prevalent in that world.

Continue reading

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Notes on “Over the Edge”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:


“Over the Edge” is an example of a movie whose exploitation emphasis neutralizes its social message and clears the way for something approaching honesty. Director Jonathan Kaplan is often able to present its kids with a detachment that is almost ethnographic; he’s more interested in them as documentary subjects than as representatives of some theme. The most vivid sections of the picture show them lounging in their rooms listening to Cheap Trick or walking through unmown fields looking useless and mock furious. Had the movie been made under the studio system, it would have been a message movie — a new “Blackboard Jungle” (and there remains more than a hint of that in “Over the Edge”). Had it followed the pattern of teen movies made in the wake of “American Graffiti,” it would have leveraged nostalgia (there is none of that). Kaplan wants to shock rather than cajole. And though this results in a degree of phoniness, as the consciously shocking nearly always does, there’s real authenticity in the way these children talk and move and act wild. While it lacks the poetry of one of its models, “The 400 Blows,” and the dedication of one of its heirs, “Cold Water,” Kaplan, like Truffaut and Assayas, manages to capture the stupid purity of the half-developed conscience. He celebrates the purity without obliterating the stupidity. The stupidity is part of the purity. The movie is often compared to the teen movies released in the ’80s — to “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” especially. But I think the real connection to be made here is to the post-apocalyptic pictures made around the same time. Transplanted to the West and a “model community,” these kids are like a combination of cowboys and Indians — uncultured primitives in a new frontier. They’ve escaped from New York — but to what? The movie is filled with post-suburban anxiety. Perhaps this was generated out of the Boomers’ sense, only half formed, that the postwar world was crumbling, and that their kids were the inheritors of its wreckage.

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Fenster writes:

As I have mentioned previously I post elsewhere when I feel my mostly political rants, even if they are roughly in line with the reprobate views posted at UR, might overwhelm the inputs at this mostly cultural site.  But for those inclined to go elsewhere for a spine here are some links.

A note to a friend on the debate last night.

Reflections on debt, and the student loan problem.

A note to a friend on the American creed.

A  note to a friend, on wokeness.

The return of lost wallets.

Wither White Wokeism?

Another note to a David Brooks fan about Brooksie.








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Whiteshift — and Randolph Bourne

Fenster writes:

Eric Kaufmann’s book Whiteshift has gotten a lot of attention, and generally positive reviews.

This is the century of whiteshift. As Western societies are becoming increasingly mixed-race, demographic change is transforming politics. Over half of American babies are non-white, and by the end of the century, minorities and those of mixed race are projected to form the majority in the UK and other countries. The early stages of this transformation have led to a populist disruption, tearing a path through the usual politics of left and right. Ethnic transformation will continue, but conservative whites are unlikely to exit quietly; their feelings of alienation are already redrawing political lines and convulsing societies across the West. One of the most crucial challenges of our time is to enable conservatives as well as cosmopolitans to view whiteshift as a positive development.

In this groundbreaking book, political scientist Eric Kaufmann examines the evidence to explore ethnic change in North American and Western Europe.

The positive reviews are in some ways surprising since Kaufmann is willing to address some taboo subjects in ways that are ordinarily frowned on.  For instance, he argues that the idea of white identity can be defended. Or . . . that it is not to be scorned.  Or . . . that it should be taken seriously.  Or . . . at least that it might not be prudent to dismiss it out of hand.  Something like that.  It is not a criticism of the book to say that it eschews the polemical, and is not easily reducible to simple good/bad arguments.

Steve Sailer often points out that while diminishing marginal returns is an important insight from economics it is a poor fit with a human cognitive style that seeks out black and white answers.  And so if Kaufmann’s book lacks something in terms of being easy to summarize it has a lot going for it relative to nuance and insight.  If you want to understand complex things it is wise to be open to complexity and ambiguity, and Kaufmann is.

In a generally positive review at Marginal Revolution Tyler Cowen writes:

On top of all of its other virtues, Whiteshift provides the best intellectual history of the immigration debates I have seen.

I agree.  At around 500 pages getting through the thing is a bit of a slog, especially since nuance does not go down as easily as polemics.  But the section at the early part of the book dealing with the roots of identity politics, diversity and multiculturalism is really splendid.

Kaufmann traces the complex interwoven by-play between ideas and interests for most of the country’s history.  Sometimes the promotion of immigration is crass from the get-go and reprobate to boot, as with Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest’s support of Chinese immigration as a way of keeping the black man down.  But memes play tag with actions as ideas play hide-and-seek with interests, and you can follow how high minded concepts also get stuck to the immigration idea.  It is not a one-dimensional story.

It is good to grasp the elusive idea-games since they serve as a reminder that today’s seemingly hard doctrines have odd and contradictory roots.

To me, the most interesting aspect of our recent history on the issue relates to Randolph Bourne, and to the brief period between 1910-1920 when his ideas gained currency.

Bourne’s essay Trans-National America, which appeared in the Atlantic in 1916, is eerily in line with modern day identity politics thinking.  We may think our recent harder edged identity politics flowed from softer concepts of multiculturalism in the 1990’s and from the openness that accompanied the semi-Great Awakening of the Sixties.  But here it is, in undiluted form, in 1916.

No reverberatory effect of the great war has caused American public opinion more solicitude than the failure of the “melting-pot.” The discovery of diverse nationalistic feelings among our great alien population his come to most people as an intense shock. It has brought out the unpleasant inconsistencies of our traditional beliefs. . . .

Assimilation, in other words, instead of washing out the memories of Europe, made them more and more intensely real. Just as these clusters became more and more objectively American, did they become more and more German or Scandinavian or Bohemian or Polish. . .

We are all foreign-born or the descendants of foreign-born, and if distinctions are to be made between us they should rightly be on some other ground than indigenousness. The early colonists came over with motives no less colonial than the later. They did not come to be assimilated in an American melting-pot. They did not come to adopt the culture of the American Indian. They had not the smallest intention of “giving themselves without reservation” to the new country. They came to get freedom to live as they wanted.

But that does not mean we are all equal in the fashioning of a vast new tapestry.  No, there remains a special White Man’s Burden.

It is just this English-American conservatism that has been our chief obstacle to social advance. We have needed the new peoples–the order of the German and Scandinavian, the turbulence of the Slav and Hun–to save us from our own stagnation.. .

If freedom means the right to do pretty much as one pleases, so long as one does not interfere with others, the immigrant has found freedom, and the ruling element has been singularly liberal in its treatment of the invading hordes. But if freedom means a democratic cooperation in determining the ideals and purposes and industrial and social institutions of a country, then the immigrant has not been free, and the Anglo-Saxon element is guilty of just what every dominant race is guilty of in every European country: the imposition of its own culture upon the minority peoples.

States with high immigrant populations are vibrant while the remnants of Anglo-Saxon culture are backwaters.  Diversity is good.

What we emphatically do not want is that these distinctive qualities should be washed out into a tasteless, colorless fluid of uniformity. Already we have far too much of this insipidity, masses of people who are cultural half-breeds, neither assimilated Anglo-Saxons nor nationals of another culture. Each national colony in this country seems to retain in its foreign press, its vernacular literature, its schools, its intellectual and patriotic leaders, a central cultural nucleus. From this nucleus the colony extends out by imperceptible gradations to a fringe where national characteristics are all but lost. Our cities are filled with these half-breeds who retain their foreign names but have lost the foreign savor. This does not mean that they have actually been changed into New Englanders or Middle Westerners. It does not mean that they have been really Americanized. It means that, letting slip from them whatever native culture they had, they have substituted for it only the most rudimentary American –the American culture of the cheap newspaper, the “movies,” the popular song, the ubiquitous automobile. The unthinking who survey this class call them assimilated, Americanized.

Something new is being born.

Whatever American nationalism turns out to be, it is certain to become something utterly different from the nationalisms of twentieth-century Europe. . .

America is already the world-federation in miniature, the continent where for the first time in history has been achieved that miracle of hope, the peaceful living side by side, with character substantially preserved, of the most heterogeneous peoples under the sun.

The role of the Anglo-Saxon here is a special one.  They are both dominant and enervated, and thus must lead by deferring.  Kaufmann speaks of Bourne’s reliance in turn on a kind of double consciousness, something that leads to the double standard prevalent today: other cultures may embrace their particularity but whites, singularly, may not.  It is worth noting that that notion, obvious to some but odd to others, came from a particular historical moment, one that might need to be checked against current realities for contemporary fit.

It is worth noting, too, the odd timing of Bourne’s expressive view.  The article was published in 1916, just before America’s decision to turn off the immigration spigot.  That might be seen as ironic but all irony disappears under the microscope.  In fact, it makes perfect sense that Bourne’s aesthetic vision would have flowered as immigration was at its high point, at a point of maximum ripeness.  Here, we see a pattern that is not uncommon in the by-play between memes and actions in history: we express something most forcefully and articulately just as its moment is passing.

Keep that thought in mind in terms of contemporary relevance.  Everyone is all hot and bothered about immigration, and the topic is at a theological fever pitch.  But while ideas can do 180s events seldom turn on a dime, a dollar, or a million dollars.  What seems to have happened, after all of Bourne’s sturm-und-drang, is that the nation . . . took a time out.

By the mid-1960s we did the opposite: endorsed a major change to immigration policy by backing into it, telling ourselves it would be a modest thing.  Funny how that works.

And so another half century later we find ourselves . . .  where?

It could well be that we are back in 1916, or at least as close to that place as the rhyming of history will allow.  If so once again we may find the ripest of rhetoric presaging neither a multicultural dream state nor a fascist crackdown on the Other.  It may just be time to turn the spigot down.



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Why Does College Cost So Much?

Fenster writes:

Thomas Sowell tweets:

And so I wonder what free college will mean on the cost side?

And I mean the cost side, not the price side.

If it is free the price to “consumers” will be zero.  But the cost?  Who will make decisions about costs once the good is socialized?

This is not to suggest free public higher education is not possible.  But is it desirable, and have the advocates thought it through?

For one the inevitable nexus between subsidy and cost means that the adoption of the free model in private, non-profit higher education would be extraordinary difficult in terms of management, governance and mission.  Thankfully no one seems yet to want to let students at Harvard, Pomona or Bay Path off the hook for tuition.

But adopting free tuition at public colleges won’t be a cakewalk either.

At present public institutions of higher education are tethered only loosely to the state governments of which they are nominally a part.  Once government becomes the full guarantor ought it not play a much for forceful and direct role in setting costs–and therefore, in turn, setting limits on programs, growth, resources and the like?

Are people ready for serious public higher education, as in “run and managed by the state?”  Or will public higher education remain largely independent in terms of decisions, with the result that government just shells out whatever it asks for?

And what happens when it is not the state governments that guarantee free tuition for their public colleges but rather the federal government?  Other than one-offs like service academies the feds don’t run their own public colleges.  Will that have to change?

Kudos to Sowell.

But you didn’t think you’d get through this without a caveat did you?

While Sowell is to be lauded for using an economic lens to critique the system his pro-capitalist economic thinking seems to have led to some misunderstandings.  Higher education does have a business model, but it is not sufficient to say that a free market lens does a good job explaining how things work.   It is an odd enough business model that you have to go elsewhere, probably to behavioral concepts, to get it right.

In his tweet Sowell notes, correctly, that government aid can be a contributing factor to cost increases.  But in the article he passes along, from 2008, he goes further.  For instance:

There was a time, back in the early 1960s, when my academic career began, when many — if not most — colleges had their faculty teaching 12 semester hours and a few had teaching loads of 15 semester hours. . .

But that was then and this is now. Today, a teaching load of more than 6 semester hours is considered sweatshop labor on many campuses. . .

Why was it considered necessary to cut the teaching load in half? Mainly because professors were expected to do more research.

True, that.  But he goes on:

Why was more research considered necessary? Because research brings in more money from the government, from foundations and from other sources.

On many campuses, a beginning faculty member cannot expect to be promoted to a tenure position unless he or she brings research money into the campus coffers.

That’s a worthy, but insufficient, explanation. It seems to betray his default reliance on a capitalist economic model.  Yet is that a good enough guide for how the place really works?

Yes research dollars are important.  But sponsored research supported by the big federal funding agencies actually create costs in excess of the grant amounts provided–this even after taking the very high negotiated overhead allowances into account.  Sponsored research in the sciences tends to create net deficits.  Why would colleges be so intent on pushing sponsored research in the sciences as a money-maker when it is a money loser on its face?  This comes on top of the reduction in teaching load to make the research possible.  The highly-paid star research scholar in life sciences may well contribute little to nothing to the teaching mission.

And then consider that while higher education has everywhere dropped teaching requirements in favor of research only a small amount of research, typically in the hard sciences, is able to secure significant research funding.  Most research in areas like the humanities and the social sciences is not supported externally.  In effect such research is supported internally–i.e., as a result of the institution easing up on teaching to allow for the research to be conducted by a professor who is normally compensated via salary.

The level of external research funding outside the elite privates and large publics is quite small, yet virtually all of the professoriate at non-elites are on the research treadmill from the get-go.

So if a humanities professor at Clark is paid $100,000 and is expected on in a rough way to devote half his effort to teaching and half to research it is the institution that is paying the $50,000 going to research (hint: for the most part that means parents).  That’s a better way to understand cost increases than the argument that colleges push research in order to profit.

Sowell’s market-obsessed economic thinking needs a dose of political economy.  Research has pushed aside teaching for reasons other than institutional greed.  There are a host of factors in play that go beyond filthy lucre for the college bottom line. Featherbedding.  Status.  “Climbing the Carnegie ladder”.  The perpetuation of the research focus in the process of producing, hiring and incentivizing new scholars.

The bottom line: less teaching, some great scientific research, higher costs–and lotsa papers no one reads that mostly function as internal promotion and status signals.



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