Natural Rights

Hadley Arkes completely misunderstands and mischaracterizes my position in my book Rights From Wrongs (“The Rights and Wrongs of Alan Dershowitz,” Fall 2005). I do not reject reason, but I insist that reason must be buttressed by experience, especially experience with wrongs. He focuses on the insistence in our Bill of Rights that all men are created equal, but he neglects to mention that it was experience that led us to conclude that all women should be deemed equal to men and that all blacks should be equal to whites and that homosexuals should be deemed equal to heterosexuals. Without the horrible experiences of racism and sexism—and our overdue acknowledgment that these are indeed evils—the drafters of our Bill of Rights could not even imagine the equality of women, blacks, and gays. Their reason alone did not permit men as brilliant as Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin to broaden the concept of equality beyond white, male heterosexuals. I urge interested readers to actually delve into my arguments as I wrote them and see how I answer every one of the charges leveled by Arkes. If they do, they will learn that although I have long opposed Roe v. Wade and its constitutionalization of a woman’s right to choose abortion, I present a nuanced argument regarding this divisive issue based on experience. The best Arkes can come up with is an absolutist suggestion that all fetuses are “men” who must be deemed equal within the meaning of the Declaration (and that presumably pregnant women are not).

I also urge your readers to ignore the absurd ad hominems Professor Arkes directs at me. His review is as much about my life as it is about my book. The most despicable paragraph in his review refers to allegations of plagiarism made against two of my colleagues, and the “mischievous hypothetical” that he offers: “Could it be that parts of Dershowitz’s book are in conflict with one another because they were written by different hands?” Arkes doesn’t even have the guts to make the accusation directly, because he knows that I write all of my manuscripts entirely by hand, since I do not know how to type or use a computer. I can assure him that every single word of my book was written by me. I guess Arkes’s conception of natural law does not include any prohibition against leveling baseless accusations or bearing false witness. If he wants to get out of the gutter and debate the merits of my secular theory of rights—a theory for those who do not believe in divine revelation or “truths outside ourselves”—I would be happy to engage him.

Alan M. Dershowitz
Harvard Law School
Cambridge, MA

Hadley Arkes replies: 

Professor Dershowitz, it appears, is vexed, and apparently nothing of my placating words softened the sting of the review for him. I join Dershowitz in inviting the reader to compare both his book and his letter to my review: to gauge just which one is more substantive, which one more temperate and civil. Indeed, instead of dealing with the substantive criticisms, Dershowitz imputes arguments that were never made, and tries to change the subject by launching other attacks. I’m afraid that Professor Dershowitz is the author of his own problems, for most of the review consisted of citing Dershowitz against himself. Dershowitz himself warned against those who would seek the ground of moral judgments, or natural law, in “external sources such as God, nature, reason, or some notion of objective reality.” And he professes himself to be a “moral relativist” and a “skeptic” in matters moral. To put it all together, he denies there are objective moral truths that reason can disclose. Of what then are we arguing? But in that vein, Dershowitz did not seem to notice that, in my review, I did fill in the way human beings have reasoned about these matters of moral consequence, in the form of principled reasoning without appeals to faith and revelation. That is the style of natural law reasoning: using the reason that is natural and accessible to human beings. The piece is worth reading again.

Dershowitz seems to contend now that something called “experience” may be the source of understanding quite apart from whether that understanding has any epistemic claim to be regarded as true. Experience may indeed alert us to implications of our principles that have gone unnoticed. But if our judgments find no ground in reason, then experience will have nothing to awaken or disclose. The axiom “all men are created equal” was understood, even in the founding generation, to encompass black people, and yes, it was understood in that way by Jefferson and other founders from the South as well as the North. And when the case was made for the suffrage of women, the reasons contained in that “proposition,” as Lincoln called it, were sufficient in themselves to put the burden of proof on anyone who would deny, to women, the right to consent to the terms on which they were governed. It is curious, to say the least, that Dershowitz is content to back into the understanding of Chief Justice Taney and the enemies of Lincoln by associating himself with the heresy that the Declaration of Independence did not include “all men.” That fallacy has been revived by the Left in our own day, and I’m surprised that Dershowitz has fallen for it.

But then again Dershowitz brings us the news that “all men are created equal” is to be found in the Bill of Rights (a slip he corrected later without catching the slip itself). We may be dealing, though, with a trick-of-the-eye: The same sense of things that finds “all men are created equal” in the Bill of Rights may hold, with the same surety, that the Constitution itself contains a right to abortion. I don’t recall saying that fetuses were “men,” or that they were outfielders or lawyers. The point was simply that we needed a principled ground for denying that the offspring of human beings can be anything other than human at any stage. And if it cannot be regarded as less than human, then the reasons one would need to justify the taking of this life must be as serious as the reasons we would require in taking the life of any other human. Dershowitz’s so-called “nuanced” views provide no ground for coping either with the evidence from embryology or the demands of principled reasoning in supplying a justification for the taking of this innocent life. After all, as a professed skeptic, he invokes no claim to settle his judgment on anything other than the opinion that prevails in the local “culture,” and he disclaims any objective truths as the ground of any conclusion he may announce. His views are so nuanced that they fade away in sublime subtlety.

I remarked in my review that Alan Dershowitz has written many sensible things, and even if I found myself deeply critical of this recent book, I would regard him as a part of the ongoing conversation. Invective does not repair the defects in the book or help in resuming the conversation. But then again, it does make the juices flow.

* * *

The Problem with Europe

As some of your readers may remember, Jeremy Rabkin and I have not always been in agreement. I was thus all the more pleased to read his essay on the prospects for the European Union after the rejection by French and Dutch voters of the European Constitutional Treaty (“Continental Drift,” Fall 2005).

Professor Rabkin very rightly says that “to call this a constitution is to misuse the word.” He accurately describes how European peoples are more and more governed neither by their national governments nor by a truly European government but rather by the “collective authority” of “national executive officials.” There is no European government because “the E. U. has no police, field agents, or inspectors, and no local courts of its own.” And Rabkin points toward the central weakness of the whole project, i.e., “severing rights protections from national authority.”

Now the question arises: how could Europeans go on building this compendium of political and constitutional heresies? To invoke a “bureaucratic” propensity on their part is not sufficient. What was decisive, it seems to me, is the conjunction of impersonal bureaucratic agency with an idea vested with superior legitimacy, the idea of “democracy”—democracy understood as the extension, through contiguity and example, of humanitarian “fellow-feeling.” To put it in a nutshell: we are busy substituting “democratic governance” for representative government—the generalization of “democratic criteria” for national or, in any case, political deliberation. At some point the prestige of the idea was fated to crash against the reality of peoples hankering after genuinely representative government. The sudden explosion of numbers (the E.U. now encompasses 25 members and more are slated to come on board soon) was perhaps what did the Treaty in: no one in his or her right mind would be willing to live in a smorgasbord of nations whose “common” policy is bound to be the haphazard result of processes nobody understands and which in truth “represent” nobody. Voters rightly felt that now was the time to stop the process of dispossession. Whether the process has really stopped remains to be seen. My hunch is that the European ruling class intends to take us for a ride again, which will have the very bad effect of pushing each nation toward nationalistic self-defense, however ill-conceived. Most observers have failed to notice how the process has begun to nurture ill will between European nations instead of goodwill, which had been the general mood until recently. Where do we go from here? The only way out is to return to the founding spirit, and to conceive Europe not as a supranational entity but again as a common endeavor of European nations. This means—and here I probably part company with Professor Rabkin—that the founding members, France and Germany, will still have a special role to play.

Rabkin states that “the most fundamental reason that the E.U. is now in crisis is that the economies of the core states have performed quite poorly for more than a decade. Germany and France have stagnated….” Although Germany is still an impressive industrial powerhouse, there is no disputing the mediocre economic performance of the founding nations. The question is: what is the cause and what is the effect? Well, cause and effect interact and exchange places. But I am inclined to think that the murkiness of the political prospects brings about a loss of confidence in one’s own powers, which in turn acts as a brake on economic initiative.

As Rabkin rightly notes, “A vague yearning for ‘community’ constrains governments from unleashing individual economic initiative….” Now, if individual economic initiative is certainly not something for which France is renowned, and if I occasionally add my own weak voice to those in my country who plead for “unleashing” it, I think Americans—I refrain from writing “Anglo-Saxons”—overestimate the difference it would make. More precisely, the “Anglo-Saxon” way of doing things, the successes of which I do not dream of denying, cannot simply be transferred to continental Europe. As much as I admire the dynamism and prosperity of the United States, I wonder whether the superiority of the American model is such a clear-cut case that the only responsible thing for us to do is simply to imitate it. Which brings me to Gerard Alexander’s interesting and revealing article (“The Other American Exceptionalism,” Fall 2005).

Professor Alexander, I am afraid, falls into the trap of proving too much. Summarizing “a recent study by two Swedish economists,” he writes, “The study found that 40% of all Swedish households would classify as low-income by American standards.” Well, when the results of a “study” are clearly absurd, you had better unstudy it quickly. Again, there is no denying the greater wealth and, more interestingly, the greater vitality of the United States. But when economic criteria are elaborated in an American context, those who use them are bound to exaggerate the economic defects of European countries. As for France, I would settle for some loosening of the straitjacket in order to bring more young people into the work force and to permit older people to work longer.

To speak in more general terms, I am struck by how much Alexander is eager to have European conservatives resemble American ones and disappointed that they do not. What good purpose would be served by greater uniformity in the Western world? It is the last thing that conservatives should desire. “Making the world safe for conservative principles” does not mean Europeans mimicking American conservatives. As I am just about to publish a small book in France which takes on many European pieties, I would be the last to deny that European countries will come to nothing if they do not shed some of their soft-headedness. But it would be good if hard-headed Americans recognize the relevant facts and cease making them up. So let me report that, contrary to the stale canard which Gerard Alexander is not above repeating, Jerry Lewis does not “remain”—because he never was in the first place—”a matinee favorite on the other side of the Atlantic.”

More seriously, in coming years the American polity as well as the European endeavor will face numerous trials. Both have recently suffered from very different but equally acute cases of “democratic” hubris. They will need to trim their sails intelligently. When utopias flounder, it is time for true conservatives to make the appropriate adjustments. I know that Professor Rabkin disagrees on this point, but I still think that the best hope for the West lies in conservatives on both sides of the pond aiming at the same ends with their necessarily different means. And we will prevail if only Americans have less contempt for Europeans and Europeans less contempt for political reality.

Pierre Manent
Centre de Recherches Politiques
Raymond Aron
Paris, France

In their thoughtful essays on Europe and America, Gerard Alexander and Jeremy Rabkin may be too optimistic about the prospects for political improvements in Europe. At any rate, they are too imprecise about what such improvements would require.

They accurately notice the current economic weakness of many European countries compared to the United States. Although they also touch on some of the underlying and deeper moral and political differences between America and Europe, they omit some central moral and political facts, and thereby risk underestimating what Europeans need to do in order to solve their problems.

Professor Alexander shows how the search for “the median voter” often drives politicians in America and Europe to exaggerate the differences between American and European political beliefs and preferences, and he concludes that American conservatives can even count on Democrats to help promote America’s more conservative preferences to receptive European audiences. But what should Americans say to Europeans? He recommends ways in which we might try to erode European fears of economic liberalization. But would that be an adequate way of encouraging Europeans to base politics on “human nature and its limitations”?

Professor Rabkin may be right that “at bottom” a good political community is “a mutual defense agreement,” but at its top a good liberal democracy will cultivate the ethics of human equality. That is what has made America a success story—for example, in its treatment of immigrants, in contrast to European experience. Men who do not regard each other as equals do not trust each other. Rabkin accurately notices European states’ continuing distrust of each other, which makes fanciful (or worse) the idea of their political union. Europeans’ mutual distrust and resulting political incompetence occurs in their domestic politics as well as in their interstate relations. Europeans lack the American advantage of being dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal”; even when European regimes entertain that proposition, they often distort it.

It is unlikely that a return to more impressive economic performance would solve European political crises, in the absence of more impressive moral and political thinking by European citizens and leaders.

John Zvesper
Le Vigan, Gard

Jeremy Rabkin replies: 

I am grateful to Pierre Manent for his gracious letter. I have no quarrel with his cautions regarding French economic policy nor with his hopes for a strategic partnership, within Europe, between France and Germany. We must disagree, however, on the significance of the Anglo-American effort to nurture democracy in Iraq. I do not think this effort reflects “hubris” and I remain disappointed that France and Germany still refuse to provide any significant assistance to the new government in Iraq. Just as we have continuing disagreements on this matter, I think it is inevitable that American policy will often be at odds with European priorities. So I must also express respectful dissent from Professor Manent’s closing appeal for solidarity among the nations of “the West.” I hope it will be possible to cooperate with European nations in future efforts. But I don’t think U.S. relations with European nations should take priority over our relations with India, Japan, or our traditional partners in the western hemisphere.

In spite of these reservations, I find myself more in sympathy with Pierre Manent here than with John Zvesper. I do not understand what Zvesper means by the term “ethics of human equality,” but I am sure that, whatever it is, that ethic is not the highest or best thing in America. I don’t think it is credible to claim that Americans have always embraced immigrants as their equals—any more than blacks and whites, northerners and southerners, Protestants and Catholics have always regarded each other as equals.

We have learned to work together, because we all see the value in common institutions to protect each citizen’s person, liberty, and property. There are many things higher than such basic guarantees, but we can disagree about what they are, so long as we agree about these preconditions of our common life. Our sense of obligation to our common institutions implies, however, that we owe more to our fellow citizens than to outsiders, even though the latter are human beings, too.

I don’t see much point in hectoring Europeans about equality. I think Manent is right when he warns that Europeans are already so infatuated with a distorted ideal of “democracy,” which is, at some level, an “ethics of human equality,” that they no longer think seriously enough about what is required to sustain reliable or enduring protection of citizens’ rights.

Gerard Alexander replies: 

Professor Manent is dismissive of recent observations that per capita income has grown notably higher in the United States than in many West European countries. We can all question the terms of any one study. And no one is disputing that many Europeans enjoy a high quality of life. Many Europeans wouldn’t trade the U.S. economic model for their own. But the trend toward relatively higher U.S. incomes is not especially ambiguous. This is not surprising given that the U.S. enjoys high rates of productivity growth, longer periods of strong GDP growth, and much higher rates of both labor force participation and employment than the main continental European economies.

Manent also fears that I’m calling for a homogenization of U.S. and European conservatisms, on the American model. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Conservatism is the least “harmonized” political sector in the world—to the point where even self-declared conservatives don’t mean the same thing by their label—and that’s neither going to change nor is it desirable to change.

For that reason, it’s only of limited use to refer to “European” conservatives as both Manent and I casually do. All I’m suggesting is that various European conservative sectors could do with some revitalization, and American conservatives might help with that process. The first part of that can’t be very controversial. And the second can’t be particularly messianic, given how often Europeans of the center-right ask their American counterparts for moral support and advice. Manent himself provides a good starting point when he describes “conservatives on both sides of the pond aiming at the same ends with their necessarily different means.”

John Zvesper is skeptical that economic liberalization and growth are any kind of substitute for deep regeneration of political thinking. I agree. Then again, we’re not sure why this thinking varies across societies and time, and it’s possible that more experience in competitive marketplaces may itself be a transmission belt for new ideas. This, after all, was part of the strategy behind U.S. welfare reform in the 1990s: changing the form of people’s engagement with the world of work might shift their thinking about a lot of things. These are blunt instruments, but I don’t see many others lying within reach.

* * *

The Pope and Eric Voegelin

In my essay on “The Mind of Pope Benedict XVI,” (Fall 2005), I noted the close affinity between the views of Eric Voegelin and Cardinal Ratzinger, and concluded that both thinkers reached similar viewpoints from different starting points. This view needs to be corrected in the light of a (rather illegible) copy of what seems to be an authentic letter (in English translation) by Cardinal Ratzinger, dated July 11, 1981, which a colleague gave to me after reading the article. It appears that Voegelin had sent a signed copy of one of his books to Cardinal Ratzinger, who at the time was Archbishop of Munich, together with an invitation to attend the philosopher’s birthday party. In his reply, the cardinal regrets not being able to accept the invitation, as it would have afforded him an opportunity to get to know Voegelin personally. Voegelin’s book, according to Ratzinger, was a “philosophical meditation” intended to introduce its readers to a refined understanding of the imperfect, as opposed to the magic of utopianism. This topic is indeed the cantus firmus, so to say, of much of Ratzinger’s theology of political life. Even more interesting is the comment by Ratzinger: “Since your little book Science, Politics, and Gnosticism came into my hands in 1959, your thinking has fascinated and enriched me, even though I was unable to follow it up as thoroughly as I would have wished.”

It is thus clear that Voegelin’s influence on Cardinal Ratzinger was greater than I had initially thought.

Rev. Dr. D. Vincent Twomey, SVD
Pontifical University, St. Patrick’s College
Maynooth, County Kildare

* * *

Relocating Citizens

Charles Lofgren’s review of Michelle Malkin’s In Defense of Internment is a milestone in the scholarly discussion of the ethnic Japanese relocation of World War II (“Hardships of War,” Summer 2005), just as Malkin herself intended to shatter the politically correct understanding of that episode. One of the premier historians of his generation, Lofgren praises the book: “a largely fair assessment of the relocation program in operation,” but he does criticize provocative “off-putting and irrelevant” comments. His criticism that Malkin is “needlessly inaccurate” deserves a response (I should disclose that I am acknowledged in the book).

As any historian should, Lofgren subjects Malkin’s chronology to a severe test. He allows that “magic and magic-derived reports undeniably testify to espionage activity,” in the form of Japanese consulate reports of domestic Japanese spy rings. But Malkin, he says, “does not carefully sort out what was known at the time from what was not.” The author should have conducted “a more careful investigation into the true role of intelligence reports in the decision to relocate the Issei and Nisei.” Lofgren raises reasonable questions about the conclusions she draws about the interpretation of magic reports. But he places too much weight on his question whether “they disclose[d] ‘Japanese-controlled espionage cells,’ either to DeWitt or to his superiors in Washington who made the actual [relocation] decision….” To the contrary, the political significance of her overall argument is not dependent on who read the magic intercepts, or when they were read.

The power and the truth of Malkin’s book lie in putting front and center the remarkable story of what even good standard histories of World War II often omit: the Japanese-American couple who aided a pilot who landed his damaged Zero on tiny Niihau island following the Pearl Harbor attack. They sought to take over the island, far to the west in the Hawaiian archipelago. A native Hawaiian couple killed the pilot, however, and the Japanese-American husband committed suicide.

If a presumptively loyal, apolitical Japanese-American couple would come to the aid of an invader, what might we expect from other Japanese on the mainland? Racism doubtless exaggerated wartime passions, and “political considerations”—as Lofgren notes—played their role in the drastic relocation policy. Yet a reasonable argument could be made, taking seriously imperial Japan’s own nationalistic appeals (which Lofgren recognizes), that ethnic Japanese on the West Coast, who suffered discriminatory treatment, might not all be loyal, when subject to the test the young couple on Niihau took and failed. What written exam, what interview, could have possibly screened the loyal from the disloyal? Should this have been left to community self-policing? These were the questions facing those responsible for American national security at the beginning of the war. The relocation—which my parents endured—might well have ended sooner and might have been carried out differently, but it remains defensible as a reasonable post-Pearl Harbor response, as Malkin’s book makes clear for those who are willing to test their own loyalties against prevailing orthodoxies.

Ken Masugi
Claremont, CA

As one of the “internees” discussed in Professor Lofgren’s review, I’d like to comment. My entire family of four was interned for two years in a camp in the Arizona Desert near Yuma. We were all American citizens by birth (my mother, sister, and I were born in California, and my father was born in Hawaii). About two-thirds of the people interned were American citizens. Of the nine or ten convictions for espionage on behalf of Japan during World War II, all were caucasians. Michelle Malkin makes much of one Japanese-American couple who did help a downed Japanese pilot on a Hawaiian Island, but doesn’t address why there was no mass internment of Japanese-Americans who lived and worked in Hawaii.

The hysteria of the times is clearly indicated by a quote from Earl Warren, then-Attorney General of California, later the state’s governor and Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court: “The fact that there has been no sabotage or espionage on the part of the Japanese-Americans is proof that there is a conspiracy and they are just waiting for the right moment to strike.” In today’s climate, that quotation would surely disqualify him from serving on the Court (although ironically it would be liberal Democrats who would reject him). In any case, it was clearly a no-win situation for anyone of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast in early 1942. The absence of evidence of no disloyalty or criminal activity was not a defense against punishment.

In the face of such rhetoric, how could anyone risk moving to a strange part of the country with no friends, family, or connections as an alternative to accepting incarceration? To understand the hardship of my two years living in an Army barrack along with four other families, consider the Arizona Desert with no insulation and no air conditioning. Heating was available if you gathered wood or made charcoal. Dining was in large mess halls and there was no indoor plumbing—mass outhouses with rows of holes in a long bench being the only facilities.

I think that Michelle Malkin’s book has done a disservice to the notion of profiling Muslim men from the Middle East. I agree that such profiling is reasonable if conducted with courtesy and professionalism, but if Malkin needs to defend the mass internment of a subset of American citizens to make a case for profiling Muslim non-citizens, her case is lost.

Edwin S. Fujinaka
Tucson, AZ

Charles A. Lofgren replies: 

My friend Ken Masugi leaves the impression that I condemned In Defense of Internment as “needlessly inaccurate.” In fact, my comment focused narrowly on a claim that Michelle Malkin advances while discussing the relocation program after the removal decision. With respect to this aspect of the program, I wrote that Malkin provides “a largely fair assessment,” but one with annoying flaws. I directed the quoted charge itself specifically to her assertion that in Korematsu v. United States (1944), the Supreme Court “ruled that no one of Japanese ancestry was compelled ‘either in fact or by law’ to enter a relocation center.” The Court did not so rule.

As for Masugi’s broader point, it is Malkin herself who sets out to judge the removal decision and subsequent relocation program on the basis of “what was known and not known at the time” (her emphasis). She herself also gives every indication of seeing the intelligence picture as central and essential to her argument that the removal decision was justifiable. Intelligence operations and information derived from them figure significantly in six of her chapters, totaling 66 pages, and she includes a hundred pages of appendices reproducing magic and other intelligence documents. She describes the information as key to the conclusion of Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy and others that ethnic Japanese (both American citizens and resident aliens) posed a subversive threat along the West Coast. To judge her treatment of the removal decision on the basis of how well she demonstrates who knew what, and when, may impose a “severe test,” but the test flows from taking her on her own terms.

Malkin devotes one short chapter of less than six pages to the incident on Niihau Island. Further on, she states that a report on it in late January 1942 “presumably further exacerbat[ed] concerns” within the War Department about the danger posed by the ethnic Japanese on the mainland. Nowhere does she demonstrate the connection between the several reports on the incident, which itself occurred in early December 1941, and the removal decision of mid-February 1942. Who read the reports? What dangers along the West Coast did the readers actually infer from them? Until someone displays the evidence, I am disinclined to discover in the incident a timeless “political significance.” (Perhaps one could find significance in the documented fact that the Army lieutenant sent immediately by military authorities to investigate the events on Niihau was a Nisei.)

If anything, one might imagine that the incident would have raised security concerns about Hawaii’s large population of Japanese ancestry, but, as Edwin Fujinaka notes, no mass relocation occurred there. At one time or another during 1942, however, President Roosevelt and the civilian and service leaders in the War and Navy Departments did support various proposals to remove anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 of the Territory’s Issei and Nisei, either to one of the outlying islands or to the mainland. In the end, the Army commander in Hawaii successfully opposed mass removal, because a lack of shipping capacity and the crucial importance of ethnic Japanese within the local economy rendered it impractical.

* * *

College Costs

John Silber’s review of my book, Going Broke by Degree, was far milder criticism of my work than offered by others in the higher education establishment, and for that I guess I am grateful (“The Cost of Ignorance,” Fall 2005). But I must take exception to some misrepresentations of my positions on some issues.

Silber makes it sound like I attack scholarship (tuition-discounting) programs as evil when he writes: “[Vedder] unflatteringly compares universities to the 19th-century robber barons who used variable pricing to forge their monopolizing trusts.” Aside from the fact that as an economic historian I have long been critical of the robber-baron characterization of 19th-century industrialists, I did not even claim that tuition discounting is inherently bad, only that it is a factor in rising sticker prices.

He claims high salaries are needed for universities to compete for scientific talent. While that may be true, the majority of university employees are not superstar scientists, and many of them are sharing in the largesse arising from the government doing the economic equivalent of dropping money out of airplanes over campuses and homes of university students. Silber’s sensitivity on this issue is understandable, given the fact that he is one of the Gang of Five—the first five university presidents to be paid more than $1 million each in annual salary. Somehow, I suspect Boston University could have found a dynamic leader—even Silber—available for less money, say, $500,000 a year.

He asserts that “most professors spend 40 to 60 hours a week on their research in addition to their teaching.” Even notoriously inaccurate and inflated self-reported data for the U.S. Department of Education do not show the typical professor does anywhere near 40 hours of research weekly, for a normal (say, 50-week) work year. His assertion that “overhead recovery from research grants typically helps subsidize undergraduate education” is an interesting, albeit empirically unverified, claim. Certainly, overhead grants are not designed for that purpose. The gradual lowering of teaching loads to sustain research by non-grant supported faculty is consistent with my view that undergraduate teaching has been deemphasized, independent of funded research grants.

Finally, the characterization of schools like the University of Phoenix as “parasitic on the larger academic world” shows an elitism and comparative indifference to meeting the legitimate academic needs of people, not all of whom meet the selective criteria applied by schools such as Boston University. I have long admired John Silber, but his attitude suggests he may be part of the problem, not the solution, to issues of affordability and access in American higher education.

Richard Vedder
Ohio University
Athens, OH

John Silber replies: 

I concluded that Professor Vedder considers tuition-discounting programs “wrong” (rather than “evil”) because that’s what his book says. He notes with disapproval that universities require students applying for scholarships to submit information about family income. “If a private business were to try to require similar information of customers,” Vedder writes, “it would likely be referred to the Attorney General or other law enforcement types for possible prosecution.” In the next sentence, he observes that the “giving of differential rebates by the railroads in the late nineteenth century led to the earliest federal regulatory efforts.” If such practices are not wrong, what would be the basis for regulation or prosecution?

Vedder is right that there is a wide variety in the hours that professors work, something I acknowledged in complaining about “faculty deadbeats.” No doubt the underperformance of some brings down the total numbers of hours reflected in the Department of Labor statistics that he simultaneously cites and denigrates. Not all professors do research; those professors that bring in large grants, however, do conduct research for about 40 to 60 hours a week. The most dedicated teachers spend more than 30 hours a week preparing for class and often spend 10 to 20 hours a week grading and commenting on papers and exams. Having conducted reviews of thousands of faculty for more than 30 years, I trust my own measurement of the hours faculty worked more than data that even Vedder acknowledges is deeply flawed.

Vedder must be disingenuous to deny that overhead recovery subsidizes undergraduate education. Overhead income is used to build classrooms and laboratories for students; it also helps to pay for fellowships and additional faculty who teach courses that researchers are relieved from teaching. Virtual online universities like the University of Phoenix are clearly parasitic on genuine universities for the latter are the source of online universities’ faculty. Online universities do no research; the research findings they use are borrowed from work done by faculties at real universities. These online degree mills are academic cuckoos laying their eggs in the nests of bona fide institutions. In accusing me of “elitism,” Vedder resorts to a charge that anyone who has insisted on high academic standards will recognize as the rejection of merit.

Finally, Vedder claims I earn a salary in excess of $1 million, a figure he apparently pulled from a headline in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Had Vedder read the article, he would have found that the Chronicle reported my salary to be $183,000; other income included a one-time payment of $513,333 in replacement of unused sabbatical leaves over 30 years of service and $334,241 in taxable phantom income from an insurance policy. But such a fair assessment of my finances would not have served his ad hominem argument.

* * *

Reagan’s Eighties

I am pleased that Ramesh Ponnuru’s thoughtful review treats my critique of Reagan and Reaganism as “communitarian”—some conservative reviewers predictably bristled at any questions raised about their hero and failed to recognize my attempt to analyze Reagan in a balanced way which necessarily involves some criticism, from the right and the left (“Rerunning Reagan,” Fall 2005).

I would, however, like to respond to two issues the review raised. For starters, Ponnuru claims that I don’t make the case that Reagan “invented” the 1980s. This charge admittedly stirs up a hornet’s nest of methodological vexations regarding the relationship between politics and culture, as well as the nature of the “zeitgeist,” just who shapes it and how. Ponnuru neglects the essence of my argument, which is that Reagan shaped a particular storyline and through that narrative hijacked and integrated various cultural phenomena into his broader vision. The book looks closely, for example, at how Reagan and his aides turned the 1980 repudiation of Jimmy Carter into the mythical “Reagan Mandate.” The book builds up to the 1984 election, arguing that the “Morning in America” apple pie and prosperity campaign shaped the overall perceptions of the decade—even as I acknowledge many deviations in reality from this triumphal Reagan storyline.

The book does contain various Reagan pronouncements (with many more left on the cutting room floor) celebrating American prosperity, taking credit for the boom, and viewing American good times as proof of national virtue. This leads to Ponnuru’s second major criticism that “Troy never grapples with the possibility that increased selfishness was practically an inevitable consequence of prosperity. That is, he never explains what alternative policies or rhetoric Reagan could have used to avoid it.” To this charge, I will plead partially guilty. This is a work of history, not philosophy, and a narrative history at that. As a historian my job is to explain what happened, to assess the effects, and not to speculate too much about what could have been or should have been.

Still, within those limitations—limitations, which I should say, I enjoy because they keep such books more rooted, more real, and more readable—I argue that this is a bigger issue which transcends Reagan and the 1980s. I note that “Reagan proved no more willing than Roosevelt, Kennedy, or Johnson had been to demand sacrifices.” This point underscores that Reaganite hedonism was not some Republican or late 20th-century disease. In fact, it is rooted in the individualistic and capitalist nature of American culture, economy, and society.

The central issue here, which I address repeatedly, involves the irony that for all the praise and condemnation Reagan received for being a traditionalist, he was in fact a modernist in so many ways both culturally and politically. The fact that Reagan governed in the feel good tradition of American politics is certainly not a crime. But for all the claims that Reagan was trying to take Americans back to some 1950s dystopia where groupthink smothered every independent thought and impulse, it is important to note that actually the opposite was true.

Reagan’s 1980s continued America’s mad post-World War II rush toward a world of individualism and indulgence, a world, as my “communitarian critique” notes, that showers the vast majority of American citizens with unprecedented blessings while also unleashing them from many of the traditional moorings, which rooted individuals and communities for centuries. This tension remains one of America’s central challenges today.

Gil Troy
McGill University
Montreal, QC