Because it’s so fashionable to decry the state of higher education on the pages of American dailies, I think it’s high time for humanities scholars to decry the sorry state of opinion journalism in the U.S. today. Take this op-ed by Arthur C. Brooks from the pages of the Washington Post today–please–about America’s “new culture war:”
America will continue to be an exceptional nation organized around the principles of free enterprise — limited government, a reliance on entrepreneurship and rewards determined by market forces. [Or] . . . America will move toward European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, a managed economy and large-scale income redistribution. These visions are not reconcilable. We must choose.
I swear–I had to double-check the date on this, because it could have been written in 1980, 1958, or 1934, or perhaps with somewhat different language and emphases, in 1856 or 1802 or 1789. Let’s just set aside the fundamental dishonesty of supposing that our choices really are either “free enterprise” and “market forces” versus “European-style statism.” (I guess he assembled his column from a Reason Foundation-provided copy of Mad Libs.) In what sense is this in fact “a new culture war?”
Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Yes, Arthur: even this Marxist feminist American historian–or anyone else with a copy of the U.S. Constitution and The Federalist Papers–can tell you that this is the original kulturkampf in these United States. Brooks then goes back to quote Thomas Jefferson in 1801 to “prove” that the U.S. has always been about free enterprise. (Because as we’ve already established, many editorialists, especially of the conservative variety, are apparently incapable of recognizing or understanding the fact that there was no such thing as a consensus on anything among the so-called “Founding Fathers.”) Well, yes Arthur: a small federal government was the Antifederalist/Democratic ideal, wasn’t it? Except when it came to slavery, of course: then the Democrats were perfectly willing to let the federal gummint protect their “property rights,” and to use coercive instruments like the Fugitive Slave Act (1850) and the Dred Scott decision (1857) to extend their rights into states that had abolished slavery. Democrats and Dixiecrats in the middle of the twentieth century then yelped and hollered about “states’ rights” and “freedom of association” again when it came to federal Civil Rights legislation, only because they no longer steered the ship of state. (What do you really think all of those “Impeach Earl Warren” bumper stickers were about, friends? Abortion rights or school prayer?)
But even if we leave aside slavery and Civil Rights, tell me: whodug all of those canals and who built all of those railroads? What about all of those miracle cures that physicians and scientists have developed in the past century? Who paid for the interstate highway system and the expansion of American universities after World War II? How did the internet get invented? “Free enterprise” my a$$. Hey, Arthur: can we get a bedtime story about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny next time? Because they’re about as authentic and real as “free enterprise” has ever been.
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