Codswallop 201


Now that I’m retired I get to do a lot of things I like to do. One of the things I like to do is get up and watch the news on cable TV at 5 in the morning. An advantage is I get to see all that stuff that happened while I was asleep. There are others.

Saturday morning there was an ad. It’s from Hillsdale College, and they’re advertising one of their courses on-line, for free. Free is good. I decided to look into it, especially since the subject matter caught my attention. The course is Constitution 101. What, I was wondering, motivation would a small private college in Michigan have for offering a free on-line course?

The U.S. Constitution is the key to securing liberty for all Americans — yet very few know exactly what it says and what freedoms it protects. Hillsdale College is working to make 2015 the “Year of the Constitution”, dedicating this year to educating millions of Americans about this critical document. That’s why the College is offering it’s most popular course, “Constitution 101” for free, when you sign up now.

That’s what piqued my interest. “The U.S. Constitution is the key to securing liberty for all Americans.” I studied American History in college, and I learned about the Constitution. One thing I did notice about the Constitution is there is not much in there that secures liberty for all Americans. As originally written, there is bare mention of “liberty.”

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Past this point “liberty” is not mentioned again. So where does Hillsdale College get that notions of liberty are enshrined in the Constitution, a document that in its original form tipped its hat to slavery?

I decided to find out. My Google search hit first on Constitution 201, which is why you are reading about this course and not the other. I pulled up the top page and found:

Constitution 201: The Progressive Rejection of the Founding and the Rise of Bureaucratic Despotism

That’s just the headline. The first thing that struck me about this was that it smacked of Glenn Beck. I was beginning to think, “I can listen to Glenn Beck for free. Why would anybody pay to take a course when I can get the same for free by listening to Glenn Beck? Here are some lectures:

  1. The Founders’ Constitution and the Challenge of Progressivism
    Larry P. Arnn
  2. Woodrow Wilson and the Rejection of the Founders’ Principles
    Ronald J. Pestritto
  3. Woodrow Wilson and the Rejection of the Founders’ Constitution
    Ronald J. Pestritto
  4. Overview: Founders vs. Progressives
    Thomas G. West
  5. FDR’s New Bill of Rights
    William Morrisey
  6. Total Regulation: LBJ’s Great Society
    Kevin Portteus
  7. The Transformation of America’s Political Institutions
    Kevin Portteus
  8. Post-1960s Progressivism
    John Grant
  9. Case Study: Religious Liberty in the Administrative State
    Thomas G. West
  10. Restoring Constitutional Government
    Larry P. Arnn

Right away we get the idea that Hillsdale is down on progressivism. It will be interesting to see what they have to say about the matter. A review of some of the lecturers is instructive.

Larry P. Arnn:

Born in Pocahontas, Arkansas, Arnn received his B.A. (1974) in Political Science and Accounting from Arkansas State University. He earned graduate degrees in Government from Claremont Graduate School — an M.A. in 1976 and a Ph.D. in 1985. Arnn studied in England from 1977 to 1980, at the London School of Economics studying International History and then at Worcester College, Oxford University in Modern History. While in England, he worked as Director of Research for Martin Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill.

And also:

In 2013 Larry Arnn was criticized for his remarks about ethnic minorities when he testified before the Michigan State Legislature. In testimony against the Common Core curriculum standards, in which Arnn expressed concern about government interference with educational institutions, he recalled that shortly after he assumed the presidency at Hillsdale he received a letter from the state Department of Education that said his college “violated the standards for diversity,” adding, “because we didn’t have enough dark ones, I guess, is what they meant.” After being criticized for calling minorities “dark ones”, he explained that he was referring to “dark faces”, saying: “The State of Michigan sent a group of people down to my campus, with clipboards … to look at the colors of people’s faces and write down what they saw. We don’t keep records of that information. What were they looking for besides dark ones?”[9] Michigan House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel condemned Arnn for his comments, which he called “offensive” and “inflammatory and bigoted”, and asked for an apology. The College issued a statement apologizing for Arnn’s remark, while reiterating Arnn’s concern about “state sponsored racism” in the form of affirmative action policies.

So, Larry Arnn is not your grandfather’s liberal college professor.

Ronald J. Pestritto:

Glenn Beck, Progressives and Me

The TV host has a point when he says a limitless view of state power is un-American.

On television, on radio, in books, and in a widely viewed speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year, Glenn Beck has pronounced “progressivism” as the “disease” that afflicts America. His progressive opponents, meanwhile, seem obsessed with attacking him for this obsession—the Center for American Progress has even launched a series of papers to “set the record straight.”

This battle reveals a deeper dispute about American history. Mr. Beck and others—such as Jonah Goldberg in his 2008 book, “Liberal Fascism”—tie today’s progressives (the new word for liberals) to the progressive movement at the turn of the 20th century. They contend that the original progressives—including leaders such as Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt—rejected America’s founding principles. Mr. Beck also claims that today’s leftist policies are the culmination of a journey begun by progressives over a century ago.

I was wondering how long it would take for Glenn Beck to pop up.

Thomas G. West:

Thomas G. West is Professor of Politics at Hillsdale College, beginning in the Fall of 2011.[1] West previously taught at the University of Dallas from 1974 to 2011.

He is also a Director and Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute, which has supported and publicized his research. Born in 1945, Dr. West received his B.A. from Cornell University in 1967 and his Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University in 1974. He served in Vietnam as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in 1969-70. He was Bradley Resident Scholar at the Heritage Foundation in 1988-89, and Salvatori Visiting Scholar at Claremont McKenna College from 1990-92. He has translated, with Grace Starry West, Plato’s Charmides, Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, and Crito, as well as Aristophanes’ Clouds. He has also published Vindicating the Founders, an analysis and defense of American political thought in the Founding era.

Those are the lecturers who stand out. A look at the overview for lecture 1 provides some insight into the direction Hillsdale will be taking us:

The principles of the American Founding, embodied in the Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the Constitution, came under assault by Progressives of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Progressivism rejects the Founders’ ideas of natural rights, limited government, the  separation of powers, representation, and federalism.  Progressive government, exemplified by the modern administrative state, has fundamentally transformed key aspects of the American way of life.

I took a look at the first lecture. It’s a video, so I don’t have text from it. However, here’s the opening screen shot:


There’s a quiz. Here is one of the questions:

  1. The Declaration of Independence refers to the “Laws of Nature and of ___________”:
    The Church
    Nature’s God

If you’re having trouble with this question, I’ll give you a hint: It’s the last one.

It gets me to wondering: Is any semblance between this and a rigorous, for credit, college course on the United States Constitution purely illusionary? What is a Hillsdale graduate going to say when asked about his college transcript at a job interview? “I have the basic courses in English Composition, General Science, College Algebra and Political Indoctrination.”

Anti-progressives—call them conservatives—may say that what American students are getting now at public colleges is political indoctrination with a liberal’s eye for history and government. Somewhere I missed all that when I attended the University of Texas at Austin. I took the required courses in American Government and American History. That was over 50 years ago, and I no longer recall the names of my professors. However, a few points remain.

My government class was in Waggener Hall, and the professor was an elderly gentleman. At one point the term socialism came up. He asked for a definition. I offered that it was a society in which people were “wards of the state.” That drew gasps from some of my fellow students and a chuckle from the professor. Actually, my characterization was based on a popular catch phrase of the time and was not strictly correct. Socialism is not the same as social welfare. Strictly defined, socialism is a society in which the government controls (owns) the means of production. Some of those today calling President Obama a socialist will need to look around at how much of the means of production is owned by the government.

In American History the professor was quite young—mid-thirties at the most. He stressed his point that slavery was not the root cause of the Civil War. He laid the tension between North and South to a divergence between the Northern and Southern economies and the respective economic and political powers of the two regions. The North’s greater population gave it a greater vote in Congress, and with that vote came the ability of the North (with little need for slavery) to abolish the institution.

The stereo-type radical liberal professor I never encountered in my academic career. This was the real South, fresh out of racial segregation. The University’s faculty club, the Forty Acre’s Club, was whites only and was being picketed by students. The Supreme Court had only recently ruled the University of Texas School of Law must accept blacks. I lived in the Campus Guild, a student co-op house. We accepted black students. I reviewed at least one application who stated he (it was men only) would not live with a “nigger.” The faculty was wall to wall anti-racist. That was as radically liberal as it got in those days.

After getting my degree I went to work at the University. It was in the Astronomy Department, and the faculty was densely populated with liberals. The department head was liberal to the core and one of the younger professors was near radical. The engineering staff, where I worked, tended to be conservative. I was an exception. They weren’t racist, but some of the stain was only just leaving a few. Two, including my boss, were staunch gun advocates. The discussion came up during the five years I was there. That included the day Charles Whitman killed a number of people, shooting from the clock tower next door to our building.

Does the University currently hold an anti-conservative bias? If it’s there it’s hard to find. An encounter eleven years ago with a UT Austin philosophy professor showed a high tolerance for radical right wing thought.

I will debate the notion of liberal tyranny in American academia in another post. For the moment the conservative push behind Hillsdale’s curriculum is defeated by its own hand. I need only point out a single element. Note the reference to natural law.

Natural law is supposed to be a commonsense recognition of what is right and what is wrong. Political proponents of natural law in this country have appropriated the term and given it religious implications:

“We cannot survive as a republic if we do not become, once again, a God-centered nation that understands that our laws do not come from man, they come from God,” he said on the show “Life Today.”

Despite what Mike Huckabee says and despite what Hillsdale College wants to teach us, people write the laws, and people enforce the laws. A consequence of this special invocation of natural law is the laws that come from God will be the laws that come from those who speak for God. The rule of law will become the rule of the pulpit. Certain provisions of the Bill of Rights will be contravened. The distinction between the United States of America and an Islamic state will become hard to find.

There is enough interest in this topic for a couple of lines of action. My efforts, so far, to obtain a cheap history text will be pursued. I need to discuss any so-called liberal tyranny in the class rooms on the basis of what is being taught rather than on 50-year-old experiences. Additionally I will sign up for Hillsdale College’s free Constitution 101 course. Watch for a review in the near future.

Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.


7 thoughts on “Codswallop 201

  1. Pingback: Liar! | Skeptical Analysis

  2. I’m not sure you understand what natural law is, which makes the reliability of this entire essay suspect.

    Dutch Protestant jurist Hugo Grotius declared, in his De Iure Belli ac Pacis (1625):

    “What we have been saying would have a degree of validity even if we should concede that which cannot be conceded without the utmost wickedness, that there is no God.”

    And again:

    “Measureless as is the power of God, nevertheless it can be said that there are certain things over which that power does not extend. . . . Just as even God cannot cause that two times two should not make four, so He cannot cause that which is intrinsically evil be not evil.”

    [Maurizio Passerin] D’Entrèves concludes that:

    “[Grotius’s] definition of natural law has nothing revolutionary. When he maintains that natural law is that body of rules which Man is able to discover by the use of his reason, he does nothing but restate the Scholastic notion of a rational foundation of ethics. Indeed, his aim is rather to restore that notion which had been shaken by the extreme Augustinianism of certain Protestant currents of thought. When he declares that these rules are valid in themselves, independently of the fact that God willed them, he repeats an assertion which had already been made by some of the schoolmen.”

    • Tom,
      Thanks for commenting. I have reviewed your note, and I will stand by what I wrote. What others have said about natural law is of no consequence with respect to this post. I noted this from Mike Huckabee: “We cannot survive as a republic if we do not become, once again, a God-centered nation that understands that our laws do not come from man, they come from God,” he said on the show “Life Today.” Natural law, in the context used here, does not appear to have a firm definition.

      • Tom,
        Yes, we agree about what Mike Huckabee was saying. That’s what helps put this into the Codswallop 201 bin. Equating anything related to God with “natural” smacks of idiocy. God is a human invention, which removes God from what is ordinarily termed natural.
        And there’s more. The theme of the original post is the Hillsdale curriculum, which appears, from my rather coarse examination, to be substantially political indoctrination. I reviewed (not all) the material from their Constitution 201 course, and there seems to be only a small amount of earnest scholarship involved.
        I am so glad you commented on this post, because it energizes me to do what I proposed last year to do. I will follow up with another post and diagnose the scholastic worth of Hillsdale’s Constitution 201 course, if I can still get access to the course materials. It will take me a few days. I have some things to get off my plate first.
        Again thanks for commenting, and keep reading.

      • Equating anything related to God with “natural” smacks of idiocy.

        There are those on the right who are that intellectually sloppy–they lack the cleverness of the left. But your assertion here is equally wrong. Indeed, in Romer v. Evans, the argument from natural law was that Plato and classical philosophy were opposed to homosexuality, thus opposition to institutionalizing homosexuality is not dependent on religion [and thus unconstitutional].

        Actually, it’s the left that’s getting away with the lie [one you are perpetuating here]– that [traditional] morality is only founded on religion [superstition].

        As for the Hillsdale course being ideologically conservative, I suppose I can stipulate that, but it’s also offered as a corrective to the prevailing [and erroneous] narrative of the left, which alternately claims the Founding principles for the leftist agenda, and discredits them as the self-serving machinations of rich white slaveholding males.

        You may enjoy my groupblog, American Creation, which is dedicated to these issues. I guarantee you will see facts and arguments seldom acknowledged in the prevailing academic narrative.

  3. Pingback: Codswallop 201 | Skeptical Analysis

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