One more thought on the Texas schoolbook massacre

It’s no joke to say that the “social conservatives” want to repeal, not just the New Deal, but the Enlightenment.

When I described the modern Republican Party as a coalition between “fiscal conservatives” who want to repeal the New Deal and “social conservatives” who want to repeal the Enlightenment, I thought I making a nasty wisecrack. But the Texas Board of Education just voted to delete any reference to the Enlightenment (and to Thomas Jefferson as an Enlightenment thinker) from its textbook standards.

The current leader of the loonytoon faction on the Board is a dentist named Don McLeroy. The good news is that McLeroy narrowly lost the primary this year (to the son of a former Lieutenant Governor) and won’t be back. The bad news is that Gov. Rick Perry, who stomped Kay Baily Hutchinson in the primary for Governor and is one of the current wingnut/Tea Party heroes, twice nominated McLeroy to the chairmanship. McLeroy was confirmed the first time, but the second time he was denied confirmation on a party-line vote (he needed two-thirds) in the Texas Senate. The big issue then was evolution versus “creation science;” McLeroy is a “Young Earther.”

It’s not an exaggeration, but the simple literal truth, to say that the contemporary Republican “base” hates the principles on which this country was founded. (Just imagine Karl Rove trying to tell George Washington or Abraham Lincoln about being “proud” of waterboarding.) And it’s not objective journalism, but ignorance or cowardice, to treat this profoundly un-American movement as if it were a normal participant in American politics.

It’s time – long past time, I’d say – for liberals and progressives, who since Cold War days have been wary about embracing patriotic symbols and slogans, to wrap themselves in the flag and defend “the Republic for which it stands” against Sarah Palin and her vertical barbarians.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

33 thoughts on “One more thought on the Texas schoolbook massacre”

  1. Probably more accurate to say that they don't know the principles upon which the US was founded, and if these standards become widespread, their children won't either. I grant you that if they knew the principles, they might well not agree with them.

  2. It's apt they ditched the Enlightenment to make room for Calvin, a man who used state power to mandate religious observance and literally had a heretic burned at the stake.

    Talevangelicals indeed.

  3. Oh yeah? If the founders were so smart, how come they didn't include a provision whereby a state could be expelled from the Union? That could come in pretty handy right now. James K. Polk's mistake ought to be reversible.

  4. Not much wigle room between a nasty wisecrack and the literal truth about the Republican Party. It's just surprising to see someone serious just come out and state the simple truth of it.

    Also funny. The raw truth is just the best comedy. Repeal the Enlightenment indeed. Scarey thing is they might just succeed. It was a radical Christian mob that burned the Library of Alexandria, the event that was the start of the Dark Ages.

  5. They're not deleting Jefferson – they're deleting the Enlightenment, including its influences on Jefferson (and vice versa). I'm sure his advocacy against centralized government will be amply covered.

  6. Warren needs to revisit history, since the Protestant Reformation in large part made possible the Enlightenment (most markedly seen in the Scottish Enlightenment and the central figures therein). Reason was a key tenant of the Protestant Reformation. Our country owes much of its political philosophy to figures like John Calvin and others in the Protestant Reformation. Warren needs to take a closer look at the life of John Calvin as well, since it's a major distortion to suggest that he imposed religious observance on the people of Geneva against their will. Indeed, upon Calvin's departing from Geneva early on, Geneva begged Calvin to return to their city and save them from the impending tyranny of the Catholic church. It is true that he supported the burning at the stake of a heretic, but a much more nuanced understanding of the times is needed to put that into context. Let's don't forget that Calvin's movement was largely in response to the mass tyranny and burning at the stake of heretics performed by the Catholic church during the time. As to the Enlightenment, let's don't forget too that some of the most prominent figures of the Enlightenment were clearly theists (or at least deists). So let's don't go re-writing history for your own convenience Warren.

  7. It is true that he supported the burning at the stake of a heretic, but a much more nuanced understanding of the times is needed to put that into context. Let’s don’t forget that Calvin’s movement was largely in response to the mass tyranny and burning at the stake of heretics performed by the Catholic church during the time.

    So it's OK to burn people at the stake if your enemies are doing it too? Is that your argument?

  8. Besides Bernard's point, Bux's other argument is that despite doing some wrong Calvin was a prerequisite for the Enlightenment – the same Enlightenment Bux's allies want to disown. Some irony there.

  9. Welcome to the McCarthy boat, Mr. Kleiman. I'm glad we can agree that it's okay to call your political opponents 'un-American'.

  10. Matt, that's a false equivalency. There are things that can be logically considered un-American according to a definition of "American". So for instance, arguing against a general right to free speech is un-American.

    But saying someone who disagrees with you is un-American, in the sense that you thing think what they believe would be bad for America generally. So, although I think a conservative argument against regulation is wrong, and thus bad for the country, there is nothing really un-American about it (unless you want to get really kranky).

    Mark's point on the Republican base being un-American, while overly broad and could include a portion of the latter, is obviously directed at the former. His example of water-boarding was specifically raised as an un-American activity. It should also be noted that the left, by definition, doesn't traffic in the sort of fervent nationalism that drives the right into patriotic witch-hunting. My guess is that if you asked a leftist what un-American meant, he would speak of very distinct, explicit principles. Where as on the right, you might find anything from dessert recipes to sporting events.

  11. Matt, Kleiman didn't say they hate America – he said they hate certain of our founding principles. This isn't slander; they are proud of their rejection of religious pluralism and the Enlightenment.

  12. who's "proud of rejecting religious pluralism" Warren? you're just makin' sh*t up. where's your evidence to back up these obviously inflammatory allegations?

  13. Bux, the same activists who rewrite textbooks reject separation of church and state, say that the US was founded as a Christian country, and use legislation to impose their beliefs on others' lives.

  14. Is that what you call evidence Warren? That's just a post-script on your previously inflammatory remarks. Link me to a quote where someone says that there shouldn't be a separation between church and state.

  15. Bux, you asked for evidence that the Republicans on the Texas School Board rejected separation between church and state. Your wish is my command. Here's an eyewitness account:

    http://tfninsider.org/2010/03/11/blogging-the-soc

    112:28 – Board member Mavis Knight offers the following amendment: “examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.” Knight points out that students should understand that the Founders believed religious freedom was so important that they insisted on separation of church and state.

    12:32 – Board member Cynthia Dunbar argues that the Founders didn’t intend for separation of church and state in America. And she’s off on a long lecture about why the Founders intended to promote religion. She calls this amendment “not historically accurate.”

    12:35 – Knight’s amendment fails on a straight party-line vote, 5-10. Republicans vote no, Democrats vote yes.

    You can apologize to Warren at your leisure, Bux.

  16. Oh, and Bux: Michael Servetus, burned at the stake in Geneva while Calvin was in power, was in fact a refugee from the Inquisition. His crime was rejecting the Doctrine of the Trinity.

  17. Well, as Fletch (Chevy Chase) says, "it takes a big man to admit he's wrong and I am not a big man". Actually Mark I asked for a quote, not evidence. This is not a quote. This appears to be some sort of meeting minutes, but since neither of us were actually there then the veracity of this will always be in question. The person writing this account may have very well misinterpreted Cynthia Dunbar's comments. Believing in the separation of church and state is often confused with believing in the separation of god and government. I'm firmly opposed (as were the founding fathers) to the former, but firmly supportive (as were the founding fathers) of the latter. Statements invoking god came from most of your favorite founding fathers, Mark, including Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. My personal favorite Ben Franklin quote is "beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy". So I'm still waiting for a quote Mark. If you can give me an actual quote, then I will apologize to Warren.

  18. What's your point about Servetus? I'm not defending Calvin on that part of his history. Neither will I make him out to be some monster though. Remember, Calvin lived during a time that was: a) more violent than we live in, and b) took much more seriously the reality of good and evil, heaven and hell. I don't wish to make a "two wrongs makes a right" argument. Full context is important for understanding historical figures though. Now, who is your 16th century hero, so that I can lay out his historical dirt? And by the way, you forgot to add the rejection of infant baptism onto the list of Servetus' crimes.

  19. Warren needs to take a closer look at the life of John Calvin as well, since it’s a major distortion to suggest that he imposed religious observance on the people of Geneva against their will. Indeed, upon Calvin’s departing from Geneva early on, Geneva begged Calvin to return to their city and save them from the impending tyranny of the Catholic church.

    So, the city that he effectively stomped out non-Calvinist power in begged him to help defend that against any other intruding religious thought? Color me shocked.

    It is true that he supported the burning at the stake of a heretic, but a much more nuanced understanding of the times is needed to put that into context

    Here's more nuanced – he burned a man with unconventional religious thought at the stake after initially granting him sanctuary. Is that better?

    As to the Enlightenment, let’s don’t forget too that some of the most prominent figures of the Enlightenment were clearly theists (or at least deists).

    So what? They believed in the newtonian "clockwork" universe, where God had set things in motion and didn't personally intervene (particularly in the case of Jefferson and other deists). Is that supposed to be some sort of argument against secularism?

    Believing in the separation of church and state is often confused with believing in the separation of god and government. I’m firmly opposed (as were the founding fathers) to the former, but firmly supportive (as were the founding fathers) of the latter.

    The two are inter-twined, Bux, because my god (assuming I had one) is not your god.

    My personal favorite Ben Franklin quote is “beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy”.

    So if I say, "Thank god for pornography!", I'm a believer? 😀

    Neither will I make him out to be some monster though.

    The man ordered the burning of another person (among others) at the stake for publicly denying the validity of a whole host of arbitrary religious doctrines, and propagated a faith that said everyone except a small group is damned from the beginning. He's quite monstrous by our standards, and while he might be understandable by looking at his time period, that doesn't make him any more correct – or of an inspiration on US government.

  20. I don't know, I'd have to put up an argument here: Undoubtedly some of the founders believed in some degree of separation of church and state, especially at the level of the federal government. This was mostly for the protection of church, to keep it from being corrupted by the state.

    OTOH, the 1st amendment was ratified by states that had established state churches. That "no law respecting an establishment of religion" was seen as barring federal laws which would prevent the states from having established churches, as much as barring the federal government from having one. Separation of church and state at the federal level doesn't imply separation of church and state, period, any more than the fact that the federal government wasn't given general police authority implied that the states lacked it. The federal government was supposed to be handling only those things the states didn't deal with. Religion arguably was among them.

    So, it's something of a mixed bag. I may be an atheist who thinks we'd be better off if religion vanished from the face of the earth, and I may admire the founders, but that doesn't mean I think they shared my views on this.

  21. I think that's right, Brett Bellmore. I think many on the left want to emphasize the secular deism of the founders in response to the narrative on the right that these men were almost demi-gods, living embodiments of constitutional originalism. But of course their time was quite different than ours, their society a place most of us wouldn't really want to live in at all.

  22. I think it's a mistake to focus on the essentially personal theism, deism, atheism or whatever of the Founders. The point is about the government they created, and their writings on the subject.

  23. Warren, I agree in principle. But I think what happens is that an argument for Christianist policy is made on the basis of the founders personal beliefs, from which inferences are made into possible nuances of constitutional interpretation. I'm no legal scholar but my hunch is that this is balderdash – how could you possibly divine the motives of the men behind the document when making legal arguments from it? For starters, they were not of one mind, and had many diverse opinions beyond the mutually agreed upon text.

    But I think the left gets drawn into this absurd project, and begins to give examples of these very different and often contradictory personal beliefs. It's a fools errand, but I suppose sometimes that may be required when dealing with fools.

  24. By the way, what's a "vertical barbarian"? I assume from the context that it's meant to be some sort of insult, but the only google result I've found suggests that the "vertical" is really supposed to modify "invasion", not "barbarian".

  25. Ah, I did a little digging on google and it appears to refer to an invasion from within, as opposed to from without. Kind of a neat little turn of phrase.

    I'm sure this is too much information about me here, but I'm recalling a t-shirt from the early 80's Metallica tour, "Metal Up Your Ass", in which a hand-held dagger was rising up out of a toilet bowl. Classy! (Classic?)

  26. "The effort by the extreme left to indoctrinate, infiltrate and really saturate the social study standards with liberal ideology…has failed thus far, and we're thinking that trend is going to continue," he notes.

    We Texans invite any of you'all to join us in our efforts to restore sanity to the education of our young folks, and if necessary, in the nullificaion movement already joined by 37 States should Obamacare pass.

  27. Bux says: "Actually Mark I asked for a quote, not evidence"

    I'm still laughing. If evidence won't do it for this guy, then let's try mythology …

  28. Stupid $hit like this is going to result in someone getting killed. When you think have the intellectual license to make history what ever you want you have destroy yourself and are attempting to destroy your country.

    These stupid conservatives don't even realize that the path that they are leading us down is one of destruction of the very country they claim to love and want to be so great.

    Oddly, they think health care makes us weak and lies make us strong. Seems like 1984 is well on it's way.

    I don't even think Orwell could foresee this coming.

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