Go Ahead, Make My Day—Defund the NEH!

I was really encouraged by the Trump administration’s recent budget proposal because it included the elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). It’s about time!

Unsurprisingly, the proposal was met with anger by most in the humanities. For instance, the American Association of  University Professors drafted an open letter of opposition, calling for members to sign it. At publication time, their homepage also featured a petition against the administration’s immigration executive order, a story on how Neil Gorsuch is a threat to civil rights and worker rights, and an invitation for professors to add their names to a letter sent to the Professor Watchlist, requesting that all signees be added to the watchlist in order to protect those already on the list. Clearly, their opposition with respect to the budget is part of a general opposition to conservatism. What a bunch of political lackeys for the left!

Probably of greater interest to the readers of this blog is the position of the American Philosophical Association. Last week, the APA sent this email to its members:

American Philosophical Association

Dear Walter,

This morning, the Trump administration issued a budget framework calling for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and other cultural agencies.

In response, the American Philosophical Association is partnering with the National Humanities Alliance (NHA) to urge supporters of the humanities to call and/or email their members of Congress. Please join us in opposing the Trump administration’s efforts to eliminate funding for the NEH.

The NHA’s email and phone patch-through system makes it quick and easy to contact your representatives. I urge you to take advantage of the system and to call and email your members of Congress today.

All the best,

Amy E. Ferrer
Executive Director

In case you were on the fence about whether it is good to defund the NEH and the NEA, this should settle it for you. If the worthless APA opposes the NEH and the NEA’s elimination, then I’m all for it! And, if you still need more evidence, recall the history of the NEH and NEA. They were both brought into existence by the passage of the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act, signed on September 29, 1965 by Lyndon Johnson. Clearly, the agencies were created by progressives for the advancement of progressivism. The the NEH’s history webpage describes the bill as, “… the culmination of a movement calling for the federal government to invest in culture…” No. The bill was the culmination of a movement calling for the federal government to invest in progressive culture.

The humanities were fine before the federal government decided to meddle with what counts as worthy projects to fund and what doesn’t. They’ll be fine if we return to that. Frankly, I find it pathetic that the very people who claim to be the intellectual descendants of Socrates—the man who could have saved his life by simply sidling up to the state but refused out of principle—are now living on the state’s teat.

Walter Montgomery

Walter is a philosophy graduate student in New Hampshire. He sometimes wishes he was a lawyer, and other times wishes he was a basketball coach. Some of his favorite childhood memories involve traveling with his immediate family, grandparents, and cousins’ family in big gas-guzzling vans towing campers. He sees philosophy as a tool for getting at Truth, and thinks too many contemporary philosophers see it as a tool for advancing their ideological preferences.

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10 Comments

  1. “the man who could have saved his life by simply sidling up to the state but refused out of principle”

    What an interesting interpretation of the Crito!

  2. I never could understand why conservatives abandoned the humanities. It’s absolutely weird to me that leftists are the great defenders of literature, music, philosophy, art, and languages. It doesn’t make sense.

    • What do you mean, Cassiodorus? How are conservatives not the defender of the humanities? Is it just because they don’t want the federal government pumping money to them? I really wouldn’t call liberals defenders of literature, music, philosophy, art, and languages, though they are happy to give federal dollars to the humanities. But, surely that is not the only way to defend them, (and I don’t even think it’s a good one. What passes as a liberal arts education in the modern university today is a shell of what it once was).

  3. Here are a few examples of grants from the 2002 cycle awarded under Bush. I wanted to list them here since you erroneously conclude that NEH grants “were created by progressives for the advancement of progressivism.” There are several types of grants actually. In fact, your reasoning is an example of the genetic fallacy because you are confusing the historic origin of the NEH institution while ignoring the present circumstances of some of what NEH grants actually do in their present contexts. For instance, I could write an NEH grant to cover the cost of indexing local civil war letters archived in the local historical society. A friend of mine (a conservative mind you) had an internship doing just that funded by an NEH grant back in college. That was just the work of an academic historian for—ya know—history’s sake. I could write a grant for historical preservation of monuments as well, and this falls in line with the first definition of conservative “of or relating to the preservation of tradition.”

    Let’s take a look…shall we:

    In September 2002, President George W. Bush announced a new NEH initiative called We the People, which included a call for grant applications to explore significant events and themes in our nation’s history. This cycle of NEH grants, representing projects in a variety of humanities disciplines, includes many that focus on U.S. history and culture, such as the following:

    Grants to 40 public libraries in 29 states to support a traveling exhibition and related public programs that reexamine President Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to abolish slavery during the Civil War;

    • A grant to the Bill of Rights Institute in Washington, D.C., to create a teachers’ guide, pilot workshop, interactive Web site, and other teaching aids to improve students’ knowledge of the contributions of the Founding generation to American democracy;
    • A grant to the Maine Humanities Council, Portland, for an exemplary education project that will conduct seminars and develop interactive curricular resources for Maine teachers who will study the work of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his influence on the American identity;
    • A grant to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, for compilation of the fifth volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English;
    • A grant to the Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield, for planning statewide book discussions and exhibitions about the cultural and historical significance of the early portion of the Lewis and Clark Expedition;
    • A grant to the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, for an exemplary education project to create print- and Web-based curriculum materials for K-12 teachers relating to the Native American cultures of the eastern United States from the time of contact through the colonial period; and
    • A grant to the South Valley Academy, Albuquerque, N.M., for a curriculum enrichment project on World War II and New Mexico’s contribution to the war effort.
    Longfellow poetry and New Mexico’s contribution to the war effort of WWII. Dubious and progressive? Probably not.

    I love it when know-nothing graduate students over-generalize about grants they’ve never applied for based off hasty generalization and the genetic fallacy. Good thing you’re only a grad student. I’d hate to think that you were actually on the market reasoning this poorly.

    Sincerely,

    Someone who cares deeply about the humanities and culture apart from thinking that the love of humanities equals the culture war and would gladly see grants going to local history societies, archives, or libraries for book exhibits. Of all the things tax money could be spent on…geesh.

    • Jim, I’m glad you are still reading the blog! There is hope for you!

      Thanks for so kindly addressing all of my reasoning errors! It sure does help me, a know-nothing graduate student, when wise, erodite professors such as yourself, come and correct my reasoning with such grace!

      Since I’m a know-nothing, I’m sure you’l forgive me when I say back to you that pointing out these grants does nothing to disprove my claim that the NEH was created by progressives for the advancement of progressivism. First of all, Bush was a big-spend republican, and hardly conservative in this respect. Second, I never claimed that ALL of the NEH’s grants go toward advancing progressivism. In fact, I’m confident that there are some grants that go to projects that I’d like to see sustained (just not by the federal government). So, likely, some projects that I like will no longer get NEH grants, if this budget is approved. That’s fine with me, since I’d like to see a whole host of other projects not get federal funding. In my view of government, the government needs great justification for seizing people’s income and giving it to other people. I really doubt that most projects meet that level of justification, perhaps even projects that I would like.

      And this is how we know that the NEH was created by progressives, consistent conservatism would not advocate for such use of of the federal government, unless there was really clear evidence that there is solid justification for arresting citizen’s income and giving to to these projects. The NEH advances progressivism because it is yet another sector of society where the government is tampering. The fact of the matter is that much of the money goes to cultural elitists, and the cultural elite tend to be progressive.

      You claim that I’ve committed the genetic fallacy. My claim was that knowing that the NEH was a historic creation of the progressive “Great Society” was sufficient evidence to conclude that it’s a good idea to defund it. Now, for this to be an instance of the genetic fallacy, I must have overlooked some change from its original purpose, such that the NEH no longer functions in the way it was created to–a change that should discourage the conservative from believing that the NEH is a mostly progressive organization. What is that change, Jim?

      I love that no-nothing professors don’t read carefully and respond to posts by creating strawmen that they knock over with the valiance of Don Quixote. Good thing I’m only a grad student. People don’t let grad students be as sloppy as Jim.

  4. Ah right, the strange premise that something like A: All taxation is theft, or B: Government redistribution of wealth is “seizing people’s income” like a pirate. Arrrr Miharty! Tacit consent much.

    I don’t think the NEH is constituted by the intentions of its design given that there have been years where some projects get more attention than others and that they would not qualify as progressive in content. If you are operating with a premise that it’s never been the federal government job to advocate for public arts, then you can easily deny my objection as uncharitable. I just don’t think a book exhibition at a library is a type of progressive conspiracy, nor do I think funding libraries is a waste of time (let’s leave that aside for today). You asserted that clearly the founding of this act was to promote progressive culture. Singular propositions are always translated as universal affirmative; it was not wrong of me to think that you meant every single project of the NEH. This is evinced by the fact that in your denouncement of them you never even divided up the types of grants people might apply for or what types of project might be conservative or neutral with respect to the progressive nature you think constitutes them–I think that’s the true strawmen. It would easily be true to dismiss the entire NEH if it only did one thing–that is, advance progressivism rather than the neutral status of digitally indexing letters George Washington wrote. You just made assertions without really articulating any understanding of what happens at the NEH. I found that reasoning sloppy.

    I also find it sloppy and dismissive when you speak about the APA. Surely, one can disagree with some things that have become the realities of an entire profession. It’s every post on this blog, however, with the exception of the careful reading of the Alexander’s New Jim Crow, which I find well done. Yet, let’s return to the issue at hand. We have an entire philosophical framework that finds the humanities troublesome (this is part of the neoliberalism attack on higher education which involves undermining the intrinsic value of the humanities for both you – a philosopher in training and me – a professional philosopher), yet I would think that conservatives might follow Nussbaum’s thesis in Cultivating Humanity in which a sense of history, art, politics, literature and the like truly improve our abilities to be citizens. In this vein, there’s something very wrong with disposing of the humanities. It’s the culmination of a longstanding view in contemporary conservativism that would take the public support of the humanities away from people and make them only to be enjoyed by the rich as a luxury .In fact, these humanities are needed to engage in American politics, and if public education is part of the government’s responsibility, then we need to preserve and study these disciplines. Just so you know the background assumptions of this thought, I am thinking of habituation of virtues require the state to educate citizens alongside parents by inculcating habits conducive to a unified version of flourishing along the lines of tradition outlined by McIntyre.

    Now, you’re right. There have been many progressive projects. I would also counter there are many neutral to conservative projects the NEH funds. This need to fund public works to support knowledge because truth is intrinsically important—a point lost on many with respect to twitter accounts. By extension, I have seen many wonderful documentaries over the years on PBS, too. I saw a wonderful documentary on the history of queens in England, wolves in Yellowstone, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. I just don’t understand this hatred for these types of projects and the lack of a nuanced understanding of these projects too, especially the lovely history documentaries.

    Best,

    JS.

    • Hi Jim,

      Well, I didn’t claim that all taxation is theft (though I left that as an open possibility, even though I don’t myself believe that). Taxation is seizing people’s income though, tacit consent or not. And if you think that people tacitly consent to having the government seize their income for_whatever_purposes the legislature happens to find worthy at a given time, then we simply disagree. I doubt you think that though.

      “I don’t think the NEH is constituted by the intentions of its design given that there have been years where some projects get more attention than others and that they would not qualify as progressive in content.”

      Your right that there have been years where some projects, perhaps even projects that conservatives like, get more attention than in other years. But, my claim is that expanding federal government expenditure, getting its hands in more areas of life, is a progressive impulse. So long as the NEH is functioning that capacity, it’s functioning somewhat progressively, even if it’s giving money to neutral or even conservative projects.

      “Singular propositions are always translated as universal affirmative; it was not wrong of me to think that you meant every single project of the NEH.”

      Your just wrong about this, and it was wrong of you to assume I meant every single NEH project. When I say to you, “Give me all the beers.” Are you going to take that to mean that the the universal quantifier is wide open? No.

      “Surely, one can disagree with some things that have become the realities of an entire profession. It’s every post on this blog, however, with the exception of the careful reading of the Alexander’s New Jim Crow, which I find well done.”

      I’m not sure what you are saying here. Feel free to expound if you wish. Are you just saying that we disagree too much, and are too combative toward the APA? Look, if it makes you feel any better, I was (I hope obviously) speaking with a bit of hyperbole when I said that the APA is “worthless”. I don’t find it literally completely worthless. For instance, I value the APA conferences and think you can hear lots of good papers there. But there politicizing everything does really irritate me.

      “…yet I would think that conservatives might follow Nussbaum’s thesis in Cultivating Humanity in which a sense of history, art, politics, literature and the like truly improve our abilities to be citizens.”

      Sure! I definitely agree that history, art, politics, literature and the like improve humanity when done well. Your comment about neoliberalism seems to assume that one needs to think that it’s the government’s role to advocate for the humanities. However, as I think I’ve already indicated in this post, you don’t have to think that the federal government needs to pass out money to the humanities to be a supporter of the humanities. One can be a supporter of the humanities and consistently think that it is in the best interests of the common good to defund these agencies.

      “It’s the culmination of a longstanding view in contemporary conservativism that would take the public support of the humanities away from people and make them only to be enjoyed by the rich as a luxury.”

      I disagree with that last bit about making them only to be enjoyed by the rich. In fact, you might be able to make a case that the NEH and NEA fuel the problem of cultural elitism by giving so much of its money to multi-million dollar art organizations, as outlined in this short piece by Heritage Foundation, on why defunding is a good idea from a conservative view:
      http://www.heritage.org/report/ten-good-reasons-eliminate-funding-the-national-endowment-orthe-arts

      “I just don’t understand this hatred for these types of projects and the lack of a nuanced understanding of these projects too, especially the lovely history documentaries.”

      I don’t understand the hatred either. I like the history documentaries. I didn’t single any individual project out for hatred. The truly good ones can find other ways to get funding though. 🙂

      I hope you find our discussion to be approaching the level of the Jim Crow series (it is good!). The comments are for fleshing out this stuff.

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