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The Weekly Bell: May 9, 2014

 John Goodman, “Why We Lost the War on Poverty“, is great background reading for our fall conference on “The Failure of the Welfare State.”

 George Leef, “America’s Growing Student Debt Mountain,” and Dan Oliver, “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Student Debt Has Got to Go,” both weigh in on the growing trouble with easy college loans.

The Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation features a reflection on “Russell Kirk’s Conservative Mind at 60″ by Allan Brownfeld.


ISI calling for nominations for Paolucci Book Award

ISI is gathering nominations for its Henry and Anne Paolucci Book Award. This award recognizes the best book of conservative scholarship published in 2013. Don’t forget: nominations are due by Friday, May 16, 2014.

The winning author will receive a $5,000 cash award and be asked to deliver ISI’s annual Paolucci Book Award lecture in Wilmington, Delaware, this fall.

This prestigious award (formerly known as the Henry Paolucci/Walter Bagehot Book Award) is named in memory of Henry and Anne Paoluccidistinguished scholars, teachers, and writers who exemplified ISI’s ideal of the public intellectual.

ISI and its selection committee will consider works of nonfiction that embody impeccable scholarship and that make an outstanding contribution to the humanities and the literature of their subject. Recent winners include Brad S. Gregory for The Unintended Reformation, John Fonte for Sovereignty or Submission, Pauline Maier for Ratification, and Angelo M. Codevilla forAdvice to War Presidents.

Nominations are due by Friday, May 16, 2014. For more details on the Paolucci Book Award and how to submit nominations, please

If you have questions, please contact Jed Donahue at (302) 524-6165 or via e-mail

Trading Freedom for Justice?

Joanna Williams, the education editor at spiked, recently reflected on academia’s willing destruction of the foundations of freedom on which it once proudly stood:

Rather than allowing old ideas and new ones to do battle, academics today insist that discourse is comprised of a range of commingling perspectives which hold relative value. The vital process of colliding old truth claims with new knowledge has been jettisoned in favour of politically loaded goals of inclusion and justice.

It’s should be no surprise to us that Williams invokes the concept of “orthodoxy” in her discussion of the need for academic freedom:

The significance of academic freedom, as both Kant and Mill were acutely aware, lies in the fact that it enables scholars to challenge the dominant orthodoxies of the day. In order for society’s collective understanding of the world to progress, knowledge needs to be contestable and open to being superseded when intellectual advances are made. This does not mean that there is no truth or objectivity in knowledge. On the contrary, Kant repeatedly argues that truth is integral to the exercise of scholarship: ‘truth (the essential and first condition of learning in general) is the main thing’. The role of philosophers, Kant claims, is to critique existing knowledge ‘in order to test its truth’. Therefore, for understanding to advance, academics need the freedom to test existing truth claims, disprove fallacies, and propose new truth claims, knowing that these too may be tested and superseded. In sum, discovering truth is the goal of advancing knowledge, and academic freedom is essential to this process.

This resonates with the charge that Frank Meyer laid for The Philadelphia Society in his speech at the first national meeting in 1965: that conservatives must move out of their “snug fortifications” to grapple seriously with the intellectual problems of the age, without sloganizing, without pseudo-scholarship, but with philosophical rigor in re-examining theory and reality.

American conservative thought, according to Meyer, succeeds because it draws upon the respect for tradition of 19th-c conservatism while rejecting its authoritarianism and embraces the focus on liberty of 19th-c liberalism while rejecting its utilitarianism.   American conservatism goes behind these 19th-c streams of political thought to 18th-c American Constitutionalism, an intellectual and political “settlement” that was able to ground a new political society on the protection of freedom as a precondition of the pursuit of virtue.  The Founders were not saints, but they shared a fundamental respect for truth (we hold these truths to be self-evident) and devised a political order that would allow for men to exercise their intellectual responsibilities to advance their understandings of the nature of reality and their moral and spiritual responsibilities to seek virtue and excellence.

American conservatism, by these lights, is at its worst when it hunkers down into shrill orthodoxies, and at its best when it illuminates and exemplifies the ways that men may freely go about the search for truth, with virtue as an end and an affectionate but not slavish regard for traditional social and religious institutions as a guide.  Ironically, this is true liberalism, while the quest for cosmic justice of modern liberalism has led it to repudiate both order and liberty as it has created a new orthodoxy and a new priesthood of power and social control.

Can this priesthood of the social-justice sciences and “Big Data” and the acolytes of the Common Core and “career and college ready standards”  be challenged effectively by a sea of conservative sectarianism, or is more concerted effort required?  Only time will tell. Meanwhile, the role of The Philadelphia Society, necessitated when academia lost its way, is to hold open a space in which the most serious intellectual work can be shared, challenged, and refined.  At its best, PhillySoc has not been a place to celebrate orthodoxy but to constantly test what we hold to be true against the lights of reason and conscience.  Like the blacksmith’s hammer, iron sharpens and shapes iron.    

At our recent 50th anniversary meeting, Patrick Deneen asked whether it’s sufficient for conservatives simply to repeat liberty as a mantra, since in the terms of the present age, liberty has become cracked, unleashing both license as an end in itself and the hollow orthodoxies of modern academia.   Meyer warned us against mantras. There is much serious repair work to be done, but it is still, as I see it, our task to proclaim liberty, rightly understood.

 Read Williams’ full essay here…

Alfred Regnery: The Pillars of Conservatism

@Intercollegiate Review…

This conservative primacy in American politics and culture didn’t just happen. It is the result of decades of hard work by those who are often referred to as “the conservative movement”—the great body of organizations, committees, political activists, politicians, think tanks, periodicals, talk-show hosts, bloggers, and the rest who are actively involved in conservative politics..

 Includes a video interview with Mallory Factor.

The Weekly Bell: May 2, 2014

New positions

Howard Segermark has  accepted the post of Senior Policy Counsel for Texas Congressman Steve Stockman, where he will be working on issues related to terrorism.

Peter Wood has been made a regular contributor at The Huffington Post.  Subscribe to his essays here


David Clemens, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the MOOC,” at NASonline.

 G. Tracy Mehan, “Earth Day 2014: Chinese Conundrum”

Joe Johnston, “Letter to the Editor,” commenting on Arthur Brooks’ essay appeared in Commentary (May 2014, p.6)

Regular Columns and Blogs

George Leef @ Forbes, “Higher Education Has a Strong Leftist Bias – But Not Enough For One Prof

@Accuracy in Academia
Mal Kline, Decoding Common Core Math
al Kline, Jobs for Humanities Majors
Mal Kline, Trio Fights Michigan Union
Mal Kline, Media + Academic Bias


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