Tuesday, August 01, 2017


You may have seen Katherine Stewart's Times Op-Ed suggesting that the "government schools" theme beloved of modern conservatives has its genesis in slavery and segregation. Some relevant clips:
Before the Civil War, the South was largely free of public schools. That changed during Reconstruction, and when it did, a former Confederate Army chaplain and a leader of the Southern Presbyterian Church, Robert Lewis Dabney, was not happy about it. An avid defender of the biblical “righteousness” of slavery, Dabney railed against the new public schools. In the 1870s, he inveighed against the unrighteousness of taxing his “oppressed” white brethren to provide “pretended education to the brats of black paupers.” For Dabney, the root of the evil in “the Yankee theory of popular state education” was democratic government itself, which interfered with the liberty of the slaver South.
Flashing forward, Stewart touches on the influence of protowingnuts James W. Fifield Jr. and Rousas Rushdoony, and on the Brown v. Board of Education fallout in the South, where "some districts shut down public schools altogether; others promoted private 'segregation academies' for whites, often with religious programming, to be subsidized with tuition grants and voucher schemes."

Stewart also mentions the influence on this movement of Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, which insight appears to have twisted some of the brethren's guts -- for the same reason that, you may have seen, Nancy MacLean's recent book on another libertarian saint, James Buchanan, has enraged rightwingers from Reason to The American Spectator to Jonah Goldberg (and, in my view, if you were trying to triangulate the absolute worst of the conservatarian movement you could hardly pick three better coordinates).

Speaking of worst of the worst, Rod Dreher gets after Stewart today:
...I read this op-ed piece from today’s New York Times, in which Katherine Stewart says that people like us — parents who have chosen to withdraw their kids from public schooling, or not to send them there in the first place — are Jesus-crazed racists who hate democracy, or at best useful idiots of said villains. It is liberal crackpottery at its purest.
Then Dreher quotes two of his buddies (Andrew T. Walker and, God help us, David French) on how bad she is -- but he does not quote Stewart. At all. In fact, he doesn't even try to characterize her arguments, except as something he and his pals hate -- and his quotes from them don't mention her historical sources, except for an offhand reference to "tying [church schools] to a Confederate past" from French. Her point of view only appears, distorted, as a reflection in the shiny surface of their rage.

Even for Dreher this is a bit much. But I shouldn't be surprised. As we've seen time and time again, Dreher is pretty much a segregationist, and usually drenches that sentiment in many thousands of words of God-gab and crap sociology to make it hard for non-initiates to see clearly. But what makes him even more defensive and obfuscating in DJing this hatefest than he is in the normal course of his writing, apparently, is when someone catches on to the whole rotten shtick -- that the conservative movement (and the white evangelical movement that feeds it votes) is not just touched by racism, but relies, indeed is founded on it. Then he puts on the whole armor of God.

That's probably what drove him to such an extreme: It's a bit early for him and his comrades to reveal themselves -- after all, Trump's only been in six months; there'll be time enough to talk turkey when this godless democracy thing has been weakened sufficiently to be dispensed with. Meantime anyone who's caught on early has to be swatted like a fly.

UPDATE. I see Megan McArdle has gotten in on this, too ("Demonizing School Choice Won't Help Education," LOL), though she brings her own unique bucket-footed style to it:
One could quibble with some of Stewart’s summation. But it’s certainly fair to note that people opposed to desegregation decided that one way to solve the problem was to get rid of public schools, allowing racists to choose a lily-white educational environment for their children. Maintaining Jim Crow is a vile motive, and it can’t be denied that that was one historical reason some people had for supporting school choice.

Only the proper answer to this is, So what? You cannot stop terrible people from promoting sound ideas for bad reasons. Liberals who think that ad hominem is a sufficient rebuttal to a policy proposal should first stop to consider the role of Hitler’s Germany in spreading national health insurance programs to the countries they invaded. If you think “But Hitler” does not really constitute a useful argument about universal health coverage, then you should probably not resort to “But Jim Crow” in a disagreement over school funding.
Sure, some people want to get their kids out of public school because they're segregationists, but be fair -- some people want universal health care because they want to gas all the Jews.

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