The Master of Political Spin: Arthur C. Brooks and “Academia’s Rejection of Diversity” – The New York Times

Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute (a conservative think tank), claims that “[m]any academics and intellectuals are biased against conservative viewpoints.” But Brooks’ claim is built on rhetorical trickery.

And it’s important to note that Brooks works for a political think tank that has no interest in diversity in personnel or ideas. The goal of the AEI is not the pursuit of knowledge or truth, but the promotion of their ideology.

Brooks uses the language of liberalism (“diversity” and “open-mindedness”) to portray conservatives as victims of liberal bias. To pull this off, he takes advantage of the progressive affinity for “diversity.” However, it soon becomes clear that Brooks is not talking about  diversity of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc., he is referring to the diversity of ideas (something that is very important to academia). This sounds like a good thing, but what Brooks is asking for is the acceptance of certain ideas (his) in the academic world based on something other than merit.

The acquisition of knowledge in the academic world is the result of a brutal competition of ideas. Only those ideas that survive this process are generally accepted as knowledge, and then only provisionally. If new evidence comes in, we must revise what we know. Academia is committed to the pursuit of knowledge (something that AEI is not because they believe they already have the truth). The process has its flaws, but over time it brings us closer to the truth. So if Brooks wants his ideas accepted they have to the same rigorous process that all ideas are subjected to.

So, for example, in my own field of history the conservative claim that the Civil War was over states’ rights because the evidence does not support it.  In science, biologists don’t reject creationism (or its newer form ID) because they are biased, but because the evidence doesn’t support it! Climate scientists claim that the climate is changing not because they have a liberal bias, but because the evidence supports this conclusion!

Not all ideas are equally valid! The ideas that become accepted as knowledge win through merit not through appeals to fairness. Open mindedness requires only that the idea be given a fair hearing. If an idea is to be accepted, it must stand up to the rigorous standards of logic and evidence. Truth is not about fairness, although there should be fairness (based on relevant qualifications rather than irrelevant factors such as race, gender, etc.) in who participates.

Source: Academia’s Rejection of Diversity – The New York Times

“The Vital Fact that’s Been Lost in the Debate Over Those Planned Parenthood Videos” | History News Network

Johanna Schoen reviews the history of fetal tissue research in order to inform “[t]hose who want to defend Planned Parenthood and a woman’s ability to make her own reproductive choices” so that they can give it “a full-throated defense. “

Read the entire article here: History News Network | The Vital Fact that’s Been Lost in the Debate Over Those Planned Parenthood Videos

“The Gingrich Revolution and the Roots of Republican Dysfunction” | History News Network

“The person most responsible for injecting that virulent strain of partisanship into the Republican party was another dethroned House Speaker — Newt Gingrich. The firebrand conservative leaders today are Gingrich’s children. Gingrich rose to power in the 1980s as the pied piper of a new assertive conservatism that merged the moralistic rhetoric of the New Right, and the mystical conservative faith in tax cuts, into a powerful ideological message. It was Gingrich who manufactured the hyper-partisanship that defines modern politics.”

I remember the Gingrich Revolution all too well! It happened just as I became interested in politics. It made me so sick that I came very close to swearing off politics forever. Luckily, I realized that cynicism was not the answer. To this day I feel sick every time I see Newt. While I don’t think Newt is solely responsible for the nasty and dysfunctional state of politics today, but I agree with Steven M. Gillon that he bears a large share of the responsibility.

Read the entire article here: History News Network | The Gingrich Revolution and the Roots of Republican Dysfunction


“This Is Where Libertarianism Gets Its Ideas from” | History News Network

In the first of a three-part series, the historian Richard Striner traces the roots of libertarian ideology. He writes, “The cultural, intellectual, and political history of libertarianism spans at least two centuries. And several of the twists in the emergence of this ideology are surprising —— even strange.”

Based on Striner’s summary of the origins libertarianism, he’s right that some sources are “surprising,” but I don’t know about “strange.” Read the first part in this series here: History News Network | This Is Where Libertarianism Gets Its Ideas from.

no government


“Talking Honestly About Islamic Hate Speech” | History News Network

The debate between the “religion is the culprit” camp and the “circumstances” camp continues. As I’ve said before I don’t think it’s an either/or problem. Particular circumstances drive people toward certain kinds of beliefs. Or, to put it another way, certain circumstances, such as lack of opportunity, perceived or real oppression, etc., make certain ideas appealing. This does not mean that those who take up those beliefs do not hold them wholeheartedly. For example, the post-war conditions in Germany made Nazi ideology appealing. Without the Great Depression, the Nazis may have remained a fringe group.

But unfortunately the current debate over Islamic terrorism is driven by the it’s either religion or its circumstances narrative. Those putting forward the circumstances are rightly concerned that some will blame all Muslims if we attribute the violence to religion. But the solution to this problem is not to ignore the evidence that those associated with terrorist organizations like ISIS are not motivated by a particular interpretation of Islam (one that most Muslims reject!). Instead we must make it clear that it is wrong to indict an entire group of people based on the actions of a few of them.

At the History News Network, Timothy R. Furnish describes the polemics between these two camps at a recent conference (“Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad”). In doing so, he gave some great advice on how to deal with the problem of the eschatological thinking characteristic of the current Islamic terrorist groups. He argues that “modern attempts to de-fang apocalyptic groups (overt ones like ISIS; quasi-eschatological ones like Syria’s Jabhat al-Nusrah) need to emulate the Ottoman example: that is, actually employ Islamic religious texts (Qur’an, hadiths, scholarly works) to undermine eschatological jihadists (as I first called for in August 2014). Simply labeling them “non-Muslim” will not do the trick.” Read the entire article here:

History News Network | Talking Honestly About Islamic Hate Speech.

mohammed and jesus

Ideological Thinking: The Scourge of Humanity

Reflecting on the years he spent in conflict zones all over the globe, John F. Burns declared, “What those years bred in me, more than anything else, was an abiding revulsion for ideology, in all its guises. From Soviet Russia to Mao’s China, from the Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban to the repression of apartheid-era South Africa, I learned that there is no limit to the lunacy, malice and suffering that can plague any society with a ruling ideology, and no perfidy that cannot be justified by manipulating the precepts of a Mao or a Marx, a Prophet Muhammad or a Kim Il-sung.” Many of us who have studied ethnic/religious conflict have come to the same conclusion.

But the lesson goes beyond the violent and oppressive regimes encountered by Burns. As Walter G. Moss notes in his article on this topic (“Why Learning from History Means Saying No to Rigid Ideologies” HNN), “the growth of a rigid U.S. political conservativism” has been harmful as well, even if less deadly.

If ideologies are so destructive, can we eradicate them? Moss believes that we don’t need to completely reject “all isms or embracing an unprincipled opportunism. We can, for example, prefer conservatism or liberalism in our approach to politics, as long as we let our individual values and judgments and not some party platform (see, e.g., here for that of the tea party) determine our political decisions.” I agree, but this still leaves the problem of persuading individuals to let go of their cherished world views.

Ideologies are so pervasive because they are comforting and often intoxicating. They give us meaning, certainties, identities, and a sense of self-worth. The best weapon against ideological thinking is education with a healthy dose of the humanities. The study of history in particular could potentially inculcate students against the temptations of ideologies. If students learn how to critically evaluate evidence, make analytic comparisons, and learn to appreciate complexities and ambiguities they will be less likely to fall for the distorted views of ideologies. And any exposure to the long train of human misery caused by ideological rigidity might make them think twice before they fall under the spell of any ideology. I don’t believe that we’ll ever completely eradicate ideological thinking, but we must try to at least limit its appeal.

For now, we as individuals must take responsibility for our own beliefs, and the behaviors that flow from those beliefs. And here Moss’s advice is apt: “Political wisdom requires a proper mix of idealism and realism and other virtues or values such as the love, kindness, and humility mentioned by Pope Francis, as well as compassion, empathy, tolerance, a sense of humor, creativity, temperance, self-discipline, passion, courage, and prudence. The trick is finding the proper combination of such values to apply to any concrete, unique political situation in order to further the common good.”

The Things I Carried Back –

Rituals For the Perpetuation of False Ideologies

“Rituals For the Perpetuation of False Ideologies” by Jeremy Eskin at

“Is Vladimir Putin an Ideologue, Idealist, or Opportunist?” | History News Network

The answer might surprise you. Walter G. Moss argues that Putin is more of an opportunist, but that he also “hold[s] some basic conservative beliefs and is willing to use various means to trumpet them.” Read his entire article here:

History News Network | Is Vladimir Putin an Ideologue, Idealist, or Opportunist?

"Putin laying wreaths at a monument to the defenders of Sevastopol in World War II, 9 May 2014 ("

“Putin laying wreaths at a monument to the defenders of Sevastopol in World War II, 9 May 2014 (”