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July 31, 2005

The Peculiar Institution

The Claremont Review of Books, conservative though it is, is an interesting journal, particularly if you want a window into what Republican intellectuals are thinking and rationalizing. But this is a bit odd. Here's the last paragraph of Victor Davis Hanson's (sadly lame) essay on politicized universities:

The signs of erosion on our campuses are undeniable, whether we examine declining test scores, spiraling costs, or college graduates' ignorance of basic facts and ideas. In response, or academic leadership is not talking about a more comprehensive curriculum, higher standards of academic accomplishment, or the critical need freely to debate important issues. Instead, it remains obsessed with the racial, ideological, and sexual spoils system called "diversity". Even as the airline industry was deregulated in the 1970s, and Wall Street now has come under long-overdue scrutiny, it is time for Americans, if we are to ensure our privileged future, to reexamine our era's politicized university.

Standard, right? Now it gets weird. The back cover of the journal generally sports an excerpt of some feature article. This issue, Hanson gets the honor. But there's a slight change. Italics are mine:

The signs of erosion on our campuses are undeniable, whether we examine declining test scores, spiraling costs, or college graduates' ignorance of basic facts and ideas. In response, or academic leadership is not talking about a more comprehensive curriculum, higher standards of academic accomplishment, or the critical need freely to debate important issues. Instead, it remains obsessed with the racial, ideological, and sexual spoils system called "diversity". Even as the airline industry was deregulated in the 1970s, and Wall Street now has come under long-overdue scrutiny, it is time for Americans, if we are to ensure our privileged future, to reexamine our era's peculiar institution, the politicized university.

Notice the addition? The "peculiar institution", by the way, is another term for "slavery".

So does the White House, which orders two dozen of each issue of The Claremont Review of Books, believe that today's universities are a modern equivalent to the enslavement of black people? Does Victor Davis Hanson? Why was the final paragraph of his article changed to include the comparison?

Inquiring minds want to know.

July 31, 2005 in Republicans | Permalink

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Comments

In a similar vein, from Jim Henley, who I believe

More Thucydides: a couple of years ago, Gene Callahan caught Victor David Doom Von Hansen quoting a fire-breathing speech of, I think, Alcibiades straight, as words of wisdom, when T’s whole point had been that it was, well, ruinous jingoism. I believe it might have been the speech that launched the Syracuse expedition. Subsequent American history cuts way too close to home in that light.

Whether or not VDH actually believes the modern university to be akin to slavery (which, if true would make the prof himself the owner of a fair sized plantation) is pretty immaterial. He's either fine with making that comparison or fine with others doing it for him, or has so low a reputation with respect to intellectual honesty that the editors of the review could feel fine ascribing that belief to him. George Bush, for example, cannot honestly belive Roe was as deleterious a ruling as Dred Scott, but he'll still compare them on national TV.

It is a mistake, I think, to approach the conservative machine as if it rested on any principles that themselves rest upon historical analogies. These guys aren't about any of that. Slavery is just a four letter word, a lazy way to gain attention (and, I might add, about 100x less apt as a point of comparison than the gulag was for Senator Durbin) for an otherwise deficient train of thought.

Posted by: SamAm | Jul 31, 2005 11:19:24 PM

George Bush, for example, cannot honestly belive Roe was as deleterious a ruling as Dred Scott, but he'll still compare them on national TV.

I don't know about Bush personally, but I am sure that many conservative, pro-life Christians would consider what they see as the murder of millions of innocent children to be worse than the forced labor of millions. This isn't to say that they think that slavery wasn't that bad, but the really committed pro-lifers believe that Roe v. Wade has sanctioned mass murder in this country, and to them that trumps slavery.

Though I disagree with the people who believe this, it's actually not that irrational of a viewpoint if you really think that abortion is murder. This is pretty much the A-1 issue for the Christian Right.

Posted by: Matt F | Aug 1, 2005 1:02:04 AM

Gee, I wonder how many copies of the Claremont Review are ordered by the New York City public library system. If it's more than a dozen does that make the NYC library board any more responsible for the editorial changes you note than the White House?

Your White House suggestion is not only gratuitous partisan drivel, its not even very amusing. Certainly not much of a demonstration of the "inquiring mind"" that posted it.

Posted by: Bat One | Aug 1, 2005 1:05:37 AM

Ah yes, because the White House and a public library work the same way and order books for the same reasons. Brilliant point, I shall keep it in mind for future reference.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | Aug 1, 2005 2:02:54 AM

I'm gonna guess that the editing actually went the other way around, with "peculiar institution" edited out of the interior version of the essay at the last minute by someone who had half a brain, but missed on the back cover because the text had already zipped off somewhere else.

This doesn't make Victor David Hanson any less of a jackoff.

Posted by: antid_oto | Aug 1, 2005 3:46:14 AM

More likely...much ado about nothing.
It is the tendency, particularly those who demonize others, to look for conspiratorial signs to validate their demonization.

The probability is this small difference is an editing error. Here's a question: Have you bothered to ask the author? Try emailing him and get back to us.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Aug 1, 2005 8:30:08 AM

Where is the empirical evidence for "declining test scores?" Also, I'm sure it hasn't occurred to Hanson that as the sum total of human knowledge expands, the desire to specialize must necessarily expand along with it.

Posted by: Horatio | Aug 1, 2005 9:40:19 AM

Do anti-abortionists really think abortion will stop if they succeed in making it illegal? The funniest thing to me are the stats of so-and-so many babies murdered since R v W. I always want to ask, "and how many babies murdered before then?"

Posted by: Horatio | Aug 1, 2005 9:45:23 AM

Horatio,

Theft is illegal, murder is illegal, etc. The argument that since something will not stop if illegalized so why try is a poor one to make.

If you wish to argue in favor of abortion upon demand in all circumstances with no restrictions, please pick a better reason.

Your friend,

Fred

Posted by: Fred Jones | Aug 1, 2005 11:10:53 AM

Horatio,

Theft is illegal, murder is illegal, etc. The argument that since something will not stop if illegalized so why try is a poor one to make.

If you wish to argue in favor of abortion upon demand in all circumstances with no restrictions, please pick a better reason.

Your friend,

Fred

Posted by: Fred Jones | Aug 1, 2005 11:14:23 AM

Fred, unlike theft, robbery, or murder, abortion isn't a crime against a fellow citizen, and so an attempt to keep people doing what they want to their own bodies that doesn't affect any other citizens is doomed to failure.

Posted by: The Dark Avenger | Aug 1, 2005 11:45:34 AM

Drugs? Prostitution? Suicide?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Aug 1, 2005 11:52:47 AM

Last time I checked murder is a crime whether the victim is a fellow citizen or not.

I don't hold the whole abortion = murder belief, but it is not irrational and if you believe that a fetus is a person, it is unavoidable that abortion and murder are the same thing, and hence should be criminal.

Back to the post though, I haven't heard the phrase 'peculiar institution' often used at all. It is clear though, that it isn't another term for 'slavery' but rather another term for 'slavery in America.' Saying Rome, for example, praciced the peculiar institution would be nonsensical. It was a peculiar institution precisely because it doesn't match up with our stated principle of equality for all.

To the extent that 'diversity' has triumphed over equality, I suppose that the parallel could be made between the two, as 'institutions' go against the idea of equality. However, given that the extreme differences between the morality of slavery and identity based university policies I have to agree that this would be a very poor parallel to make.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Aug 1, 2005 12:31:26 PM

Dave: common misunderstanding. It wasn't a 'peculiar' institution in the sense of being weird. That meaning of 'peculiar' is a modern one. It's 'peculiar' in the sense of 'belonging specificially' - a sense that is now almost obsolete. (For an example of use, take "The Name of the Rose" - 'Monkeys do not laugh. Laughter is peculiar to men, it is a sign of their rationality.') One could say that Hunter S Thompson has a peculiar writing style (in both senses).

In the phrase 'peculiar institution' it means 'an institution that belongs to us - is peculiar to us (presumably as opposed to the free states of the North and Canada)'.

And the interpretation "our era's peculiar institution, the politicized university" must be (apart from the slavery thing) that other eras did not have politicised universities - they are peculiar to our era. Which is rubbish, of course. VDH is no scholar, and certainly not an Oxford man, or he would know better.

Posted by: ajay | Aug 2, 2005 6:42:37 AM

I fully understand peculiar in that sense, a better synonym would be 'unique.' That is the way I was referring to it as.

We had many institutions that 'belonged to us' and slavery of course was not unique to the American South. We wouldn't call our Senate a 'peculiar institution' even though it belongs to us and is unlike other elected bodies in North America.

What made slavery 'unique' was that it obviously did not match our stated principles.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Aug 2, 2005 12:25:22 PM

peculiar, a best way for sucess

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 16, 2007 10:59:42 PM

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