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Thanks to all of you who have sent in ideas for the conference at Berry College on teaching American politics. For a variety of reasons originating in my personal incompetence, the conference will now be on April 22. We’re still taking suggestions and looking for volunteers.

One of the proposals raised lots of interesting issues concerning the popular Founders=good/Progressives=evil teaching “narrative.” A variant of this approach, of course, is Locke=natural rights=good/Hegel (a German)=History (which includes Darwinian evolution)=evil. Here’s the (somewhat edited) version of the strengths and weaknesses of this narrative I got in the (e)mail:

Strengths: 1. The narrative is a fine way to boil dow the complicated story of American politics for undergraduates and the educated public. 2. It inculcates reverence for the Founders and works to reverse the prejudice of today’s young against anything old and established. (I would add: It makes the old seem more noble and rational than the new, creating an aristocratic prejudice against the vulgarity and stupidity of contemporary opinion. It creates an elite perspective by which to look down on the pseudo-sophistication of contemporary intellectual elites.) 3. Progressivism is overlooked in the mainstream literature as an important cause of the character of American political life today.

Weaknesses: 1. The virtue of simplicity is also a vice. The Founding is oversimplified and the thought-provoking tensions within our originating liberalism are neglected. No Founding is flawless or without problems that could morph into the seeds of its own destruction, and intelligent citizens shouldn’t be blind to these inevitable “issues.” As Jim Ceaser reminded us, liberalism, from the beginning, has had really big sustainability issues—especially when it comes to its ungrateful dependence on the nation and genuine religion. (I would elaborate: Strauss himself says that Rousseau [History] radicalizes Locke by exploiting obvious contradictions in his contractual doctrine, and there is, after all, something proto-historicist in the Lockean idea that nature gives us almost worthless materialism and so everything natural should be transformed by being mixed with our labor.) 2. The populism of the Jacksonian era is slighted as a cause. (I would add, following Tocqueville, that democracy is slighted as a cause of our pragmatism—which is a progressivism based in a vague faith in the indefinite perfectibility of man.) 3. Important differences (on, for example, the culturally libertarian front) between (manly, TR) Progressivism and today’s post-Sixties liberalism go relatively unexplained, and (I would add) there’s insufficient appreciation of the basic decency of the immigrant New Deal Democratic Party of, say, 1960. (I would also add that a very important difference between these days and, say, the 1930s is the death of the Historical ideologies. Liberalism, as Ceaser and Rorty agree, is now foundationless, and conservatism may or may not be, depending on who you ask. An unseemly feature of today’s back-to-the-Thirties “discourse” is the utterly misleading allegations of Fascism in both directions—as in Liberal Fascism or all Straussians are really Fascists.)

So we’re still especially soliciting a greater variety of proposals with this “narrative” in mind, including those from a Porcher, Anti-Federalist view and others outside the Locke box. I certainly would also welcome someone who’d be tough enough to defiend the poor Progressives from all this abuse.

The conference will also feature sessions on teaching American politics through films (such as ROCKY) and the use of high technology is the American government classroom. Additional proposals are especially welcomed along those lines too.

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