The Literary Profession and Civic Culture
By Paul A. Cantor
(May 20, 2013)
The humanities in general and literature departments in particular have reason to feel beleaguered in today’s higher education environment. Their student enrollment numbers are declining in relative and even absolute terms, while departments and programs are accordingly being cut back, consolidated, and even eliminated entirely. It is difficult to measure such matters precisely, but it is safe to say that the prestige of literature departments at the moment is closer to an all-time low than an all-time high.
The well-oiled publicity machines of colleges and universities are quick to trumpet the triumphs of their faculty in the hard sciences. A professor who finds a new cure for a disease is headed straight for the cover of the campus alumni magazine, whereas a new interpretation of Hamlet is far less likely to be deemed front-page news in publications designed to impress wealthy donors.
Literature departments may have always felt like the Cinderellas of the academy, but these days they have virtually abandoned any hope that someday their prince will come. Right now they would be happy just to hang on to their old pair of shoes.Read More...
Music and Civic Life in America
By David Tucker and Nathan Tucker
(May 6, 2013)
Civic life is the life we live in dealing with problems of common concern. It is our public life, as opposed to our private life. In a liberal democracy, civic life is all-embracing in the sense that it is open to all. Yet in such a regime, civic life may also be a small part of life, since liberal democracy assumes the priority of private life.
Correspondingly, the music we share in our civic lives will occupy a smaller place than the music of our private lives. Music may be more private than many other activities: it is not verbal, and through its rhythmic component, affects us bodily—that is, most privately, despite the ability of groups of people to move in unison to a beat. Speeches mark our public life more than music; we have no musical equivalent of the Gettysburg Address.
Being nonverbal, music may communicate more universally than any given language, and yet what is universal is not necessarily civic. Music is thus both above and below civic life, both more private and more shared. The naturally tenuous connection between music and civic life has been particularly evident in America, and the connection has grown more tenuous or ambiguous over time. Yet, as we hope to show, American music remains perhaps the best expression of what America is.Read More...
This project explores the role of specific professions in a modern, liberal democratic society and their effect on the civic culture of the nation. Each essay analyzes and comments on a profession and its impact on the character and quality of American citizenship today. Among the questions we will address are:
Economists and Res Publica:
The Virtues and Limits of Economic Analysis
By Steven E. Rhoads
(November 29, 2012)
With the possible exception of lawyers, economists are now the profession with the most influence on public policy. In the 1960s, when I began working at the US Bureau of the Budget, Charles Schultze, an economist and then-director of the bureau, tried to ensure that most of the public policy and program evaluation offices were headed by economists. Economic thinking still dominates the Office of Management and Budget, the Congressional Budget Office, and the General Accounting Office, and it is influential in policy and program evaluation offices across US agencies and departments. Moreover, economic thinking is at the forefront of most public policy schools at our leading universities. Intentional or not, economists now have a large say in forming the laws and regulations we make as a polity. The question that naturally arises is: what are the civic benefits that accrue from adopting the economist’s view of the world—and, in turn, what are the limitations?
No doubt, economists have a distinctive way of looking at the world—one that often runs counter to the views of noneconomists. Economists generally agree that, once distributional and equity issues have been sorted out, commercial, capitalist societies best allocate resources in a way that satisfies most people’s desires. Yet it is not intuitively obvious that an economic system in which everyone can work at whatever they want and wherever they want will work better than one that asks our smartest minds to plan the economy. As Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow noted, to one unschooled in economics, an economy motivated by greed and controlled by no one brings to mind chaos. But, in fact, free markets with flexible prices coordinate the activities of millions of people in a remarkable and typically sensible way. Understanding both the principles that drive this outcome and how to apply them to new situations is what allows economists to see themselves as uniquely equipped to design sound public policies.Read More...
Education for Liberty?
The Shortcomings of Contemporary Civic Education Theories
By Rita Koganzon
(August 6, 2012)
It is widely accepted that some form of civic education is necessary to sustain America’s liberal-democratic regime and the freedoms Americans enjoy. However, when we get to specifics about what a civic education should entail, this easy consensus falls away. As civic theorist and Brookings Institution scholar William Galston has observed, “Public education . . . is close to the heart of Americans’ understanding of democracy, and debates about education are bound to reflect competing and evolving conceptions of what democracy requires.”
Yet, it was not until the late 1980s that academic political theorists truly entered into the dispute over civic education. When they did—beginning with Amy Gutmann’s 1987 book Democratic Education—it was in light of two important developments in American political life: the precipitous decline in political participation after the 1960s and the simultaneous rise of ‘culture war’ politics. These developments alarmed political scientists in general, but some political theorists found the increasingly visible and vocal social conservatism of the Right during the Reagan Administration particularly threatening to the Rawlsian vision of a just—redistributive, publically secular, and pluralistic—society. In response, they turned to public schools in the hope that they could produce politically engaged citizens committed to liberal democracy.Read More...
America’s national debt now exceeds $15 trillion, which is roughly equal to the value of all goods and services the U.S. economy produces in one year. If left unchecked, America’s debt will have catastrophic consequences for the future of the nation. How did we arrive at this point?
At a Program on American Citizenship event at AEI on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 , AEI’s Nicholas Eberstadt demonstrated how government entitlement spending has dramatically increased over the past 50 years–with nearly half of U.S. households receiving some sort of government benefit–and explored the implications of this trend for a self-governing citizenry. Using the American Civil War and the Great Depression as historical examples, The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost expressed concern that the U.S. democratic system is ill-suited to address long-term problems until a crisis point has been reached, warning that such a crisis point for entitlement spending is rapidly approaching.
Lawrence M. Mead of New York University also raised concerns about the lack of seriousness with which Americans seem to view the debt crisis. Dependency on the government, he noted, is not just a financial problem, but reveals an abdication of citizens’ responsibility to bear the “burdens of freedom.” Addressing these burdens head on, he encouraged, is the only way Americans can be truly worthy of their claims to a great and free society.
Yuval Levin of National Affairs stressed that citizenship extends beyond simply paying taxes, cautioning against the notion that only individuals who pay the largest percentage of income taxes have “skin in the game.” Levin instead suggested that a healthy body politic demands that all citizens take to heart the problems of unsustainable entitlement growth and government spending.Read More...
WASHINGTON, JUNE 24, 2010–As concerns mount over government spending and the national debt, a group of authors and experts gathered at AEI Thursday to discuss two new books about the fight to shrink government.
John Samples, author of The Struggle to Limit Government: A Modern Political History, outlined the rise of Big Government since the Progressive era and the unsuccessful campaign by conservatives to restore limited government. Christopher DeMuth (AEI) and Jonathan Rauch (National Journal) both spoke about the failure of supply-side conservatism and contended that tax cuts, in the absence of spending cuts, only make government spending appear more affordable, and thus more popular.
William Voegeli, author of Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State, argued that conservatives should unite with neoliberals around the principle of limited government growth. Fred Siegel, a writer and self-professed “recovering liberal,” agreed and gave an account of the disastrous fiscal situation of his home state, New York. Charles Murray (AEI) discussed the importance of the four institutions–family, community, faith, and vocation–in citizens’ lives and how a return to the principles of limited government could strengthen and renew those domains.Read More...
Date: Thursday, June 24, 2010
Time: 9:00 AM–11:30 AM
Location: Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, AEI
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036
How big should government be? At what point will it exhaust its ability to solve the problems of society and individuals? Are today’s citizens bankrupting future generations? Has “big government” taken on a life of its own, challenging self-government itself?
These and other questions are the subject of two new books that recount the nearly thirty-year fight to curb government growth: The Struggle to Limit Government: A Modern Political History (Cato Institute, 2010) by John Samples, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Representative Government, and Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State (Encounter Books, 2010) by William Voegeli, a contributing editor at the Claremont Review of Books.
Organized in conjunction with Steven F. Hayward, the F. K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow at AEI, this book forum is the second in a series of events by AEI’s American Citizenship program. The program is dedicated to strengthening the foundations of American freedom and self-government by renewing our understanding of American citizenship.Read More...
WASHINGTON, JUNE 9, 2010–Four leading commentators on American politics gathered at AEI on Wednesday to discuss the rise and impact of the tea party movement.
Pollster Kristen Soltis of the Winston Group, a strategy and message-design firm, presented her research on the demographics and motivations of tea party supporters. Tea partiers, she said, are largely older, first-time activists who got involved through social-networking tools and who are driven by anxiety about the economy. David Weigel, reporter for the Washington Post, and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat both found parallels to the antiwar movement and warned that the tea party could face an “agenda problem” if it didn’t develop a clear message. The panelists agreed that the tea party movement had shifted national political debate rightward and that it would continue to have an impact.
AEI visiting fellow Jonah Goldberg moderated the event.Read More...
Date: Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Time: 2:00 PM–4:00 PM
Location: Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, AEI
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036
At this event, three close observers of the American political scene will examine the rapid rise of the tea party movement and what it means for civic life. What drives the tea party movement? Will its momentum last through the 2010 elections and beyond? How does it compare to the Obama campaign’s political-activist netroots? Is there a revolution afoot among average Americans mobilized by the power of the Internet? What does an active and engaged citizenry look like in the digital age?
Answering these and other questions will be Kristen Soltis, director of policy research at the Winston Group; David Weigel, blogger and reporter with the Washington Post; and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. AEI visiting fellow Jonah Goldberg will moderate.
This is the first in a series of events organized by AEI’s American Citizenship Program. The program is dedicated to strengthening the foundations of American freedom and self-government by renewing our understanding of American citizenship.Read More...