Let the historians charting the growth of executive power take note of August 30, 2015, which is the day America became a nation in which Presidents could rename mountains and nobody asked how.
Archives for September 2015
I am more sympathetic than Peter Lawler to the movement for reforming higher education, even though I share his delight in Greek and the philosophy of the ancients. I majored in classics, and spent part of my graduate studies at Oxford on the Patristics. I even still occasionally blog about Homer! But I believe that American higher education needs generally to become more variegated to take account of the varied endowments and needs of students. And higher education funded by the state should be a public good providing benefits to society as well as to its students.
I do not doubt that learning Greek and ancient philosophy is a valuable experience for most of the students who undertake it. I am doubtful, however, that a great many others would benefit from this challenge, because of the substantial opportunity cost in learning a difficult language like Greek: passing up other bodies of knowledge that have more direct payoffs in more vocations and provide better tools for understanding many aspects of the modern world. To be sure, some future writers or thinkers may gain. Others who are quick studies can choose many vocations and methods of modern analysis without any particular preparation beyond their genius. But that does not describe most students, even those that would substantially benefit from a college education. I myself occasionally rue my single-minded pursuit of the typical nineteenth century education at the expense of courses with the economics and statistics needed to evaluate complex tradeoffs in public policy.
Similarly, many students will benefit from an old fashioned structure of education, even the kind of tutorial system that I enjoyed at Oxford. But the more labor intensive is education, the more expensive it is.
The College Board’s recent revision of its standards for the Advanced Placement (AP) history course for the nation’s high school students has been hailed as something of a victory for
conservatives. There is less cause for celebration than might first appear, though.
Here are two related thoughts about the Fugitive Slave Clause.
State Action: It is often said that the Constitution only imposes obligations on government officials. While that may be generally true, it is not clear that it is entirely true. One famous example is the 13th Amendment, which simply prohibits slavery, rather than prohibiting the federal government or the states from imposing slavery. (“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude . . . shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”)
It is often argued that the 13th thus prohibits private persons from participating in slave relations. While this is certainly a plausible interpretation of the Amendment, I genuinely don’t know if it is correct.
The other day, however, I came upon a couple of other clauses that may not have government action requirements. The Fugitive Slave Clause provides that “No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”
Though American politics at the grassroots is polarized and divided, sharp commentators have written thoughtfully about the similarities between the parties as a practical matter. I would add that the similarities extend to their leaders.
While George W. Bush and Barack Obama could not be further apart ideologically, their attitudes toward governing suffer from the same flaw. Bush said he was “the Decider,” to which Obama rejoined: “I won.” Both ran roughshod over public opinion.