Today we move on to the economy and the role of government. Sparks are sure to fly.

6. “A few government and U.S. history textbooks suffer from an uncritical celebration of the free enterprise system, both by ignoring legitimate problems created by capitalism and failing to include coverage of government’s role in U.S. economic system.”

(a) Here, according to the Texas Freedom Network, are the kinds of outrageous remarks the textbooks under consideration make about free enterprise:

The atmosphere of a free market, as well as a free society that encourages the exchange of ideas, can and often does lead to innovation and scientific and technological discoveries. All these conditions promote growth in the economy and often improve the quality of everyday life.

The proper role of government in economic affairs should be restricted to functions intended to promote and protect the free play of competition and the operation of the laws of supply and demand. True laissez-faire capitalism has never in fact operated in this country, yet it has a profound effect on the structure of the nation’s economic system, which can be described as laissez-faire capitalism with limited government involvement.

The Network admits that the free enterprise system has led to great material and intellectual progress. But they want some discussion of its disadvantages and limitations.

… the text’s treatment of the free enterprise system is unbalanced and asymmetrical because the text provides little mention of the possible limits and disadvantages of a free enterprise and laissez- faire system. Students are given little awareness that critics of a laissez-faire system, both in the U.S. today and the past, have argued that an unfettered market can and has occasionally led to economic insecurity and inequality, unfair pay and unsafe labor conditions for many employees.

Identifying free enterprise and laissez-faire, as the Network and arguably the latter text do, is a mistake. The American market has not been “unfettered” anytime in the past century, and probably since the nation’s founding. In any case, it’s hard to evaluate this complaint without seeing the larger context in the texts in question. I’m inclined to count the complaint against the first text as bogus. A free market and free exchange of ideas do bring great benefits, and there’s no need for a “however.” The quote from the second text sounds as if it’s an endorsement of a libertarian approach to economic affairs, but I’m guessing that in context it’s clear that this is the proper role of government according to advocates of laissez-faire capitalism. I’ll hesitantly call this debatable.

(b) Another text mentions complaints about the Gilded Age, but responds,

The dizzying array of things to do and buy convinced the growing middle class that modern America was in a true golden age.”[...] [sic] The application of scientific discoveries and technological innovations by the free enterprise system improved the standard of living in the United States. Driven by entrepreneurs, American businesses were able to create products and services that made daily life easier and more fun for many people. Mass produced materials and products lowered the prices of many goods, enabling ordinary Americans to purchase items that previously had been out of reach.

The Network denounces this treatment, saying,

nineteenth-century free- market capitalism went hand in hand with governmental suppression of Native ownership over vast swaths of fertile land, leading to that land’s transformation (first) into public property and (second) into private property protected by law. Without governmental action, that transformation would not have happened. Second, nobody during the age of early industrialization disputed the importance of active governmental support for “internal improvements” that were beyond private means. And finally, any comprehensive discussion of the history of free-market capitalism in this country should note that the great driving commodity of the pre-Civil War economy was cotton, produced by slave labor on an enormous scale.

To call this complaint bogus is kind; it is ridiculous. The Gilded Age is the period, roughly, 1870-1900, in which the fruits of the Second Industrial Revolution spread to a growing middle class. It was the era in which department stores, music halls, theaters, large consumer products companies, mass circulation newspapers and magazines, team sports, and other accoutrements of an urbane middle-class lifestyle were born. The wealth that had concentrated earlier in the century as a result of the First Industrial Revolution began to spread throughout a substantial portion of society.

During this era, yes, the government fought wars against tribes in the West, swindled them out of large areas of land, confined them to reservations, etc. But this had little to do with the key developments of the Second Industrial Revolution or the rise of the middle-class. So, it’s hard to see how it’s relevant to the topic at hand. The closing decades of the nineteenth century were NOT “the age of early industrialization,” so it’s hard to see how the building of roads and canals earlier in the century is particularly relevant either. The Network wants the book to make a “They didn’t build that!” point. But it’s the Network, not the textbook, that’s pushing a political agenda here. Finally, why is the role of cotton before 1861 relevant to events in the Gilded Age? It’s not. The Network wants the text to say that the Gilded Age’s improvements in the quality of life were due, not to free enterprise, but due to earlier government involvement and to OPPRESSION, of slaves and of Native Americans. That’s preposterous. Bogus, bogus, bogus.

(c) One text contains praise of capitalism:

The capitalist economic system of the United States helped spur industrial growth. In capitalism, individuals and businesses own property and decide how to use it. The people—not the government—control capital, which includes the buildings, land, machines, money, and other items used to create wealth.

Again, the Network insists on a “You didn’t build that” approach:

This passage ignores a very important dimension of American economic development after the Revolution: the argument, developed by Alexander Hamilton, that government power is needed to foster development in an active way, including projects that are beyond private capital’s reach. The declarative statement that “people – not the government – control capital” seems to dismiss even the possibility of this more complicated relationship between individuals, the government and capital. In addition, the debate over public regulation of both individual and corporate enterprise remains an active subject of contention in American economic and legal life to the present day. Students should have a context for understanding that debate.

Let’s look carefully at what the text is saying. Capitalism “helped spur industrial growth.” It doesn’t say that capitalism was solely responsible for growth. Second, it says that our economic system allows people and businesses to own property and decide how to use it. Is the Network denying that? Finally, the text says that the people rather than the government control capital. Again, isn’t that true? The contrast is with socialism, which puts government in control of property and centralizes decision-making. I don’t read the passage as denying the possibility of regulation or of public projects. This, moreover, is a middle-school U.S. history textbook that ends its coverage in 1877. There were important public works projects within its time frame, and important issues about the proper role of government—the Hamilton/Jefferson debate, Andrew Jackson’s assault on the Bank of the United States, Henry Clay’s “American system”—all of which receive coverage in the book. But the main expansion of the government’s role occurs after 1877, outside the frame of coverage of the book. Asking it to do more than it already does on this score is bogus.

(d) One government text says, to introduce its discussion of taxation,

In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., taxes are ‘what we pay for civilized society.’ Society does not appear to be much more civilized today than it was when Justice Holmes made that observation in 1927. However, ‘what we pay’ has certainly gone up.

Ah! But society is much more civiilzed today, says the Network:

The text neglects to mention that defenders of increased taxation for an expanded safety net would respond that programs adopted since 1927 such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act have produced such ‘civilized’ benefits as a drastic reduction of poverty and economic insecurity among the elderly, children, and the population at large, and improved and more equal access to health care.

The text should be insisting on the benefits of the welfare state, and trumpeting Obamacare! (I thought Obamacare was going to lower costs, by the way, not justify increased taxation in the decades since 1927. But, whatever.) Again, it’s the Network that’s trying to politicize things. The points they raise are in any event irrelevant to the point the book is introducing, which is that income tax rates have skyrocketed from a top rate of 7% when the tax was introduced. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are financed separately; in theory, at least, they have no bearing on income tax rates. Obamacare hasn’t even been fully implemented yet; it’s no explanation for the increase in the tax burden that’s taken place over the past century. The Network’s objection is completely bogus.

(e) The Network complains about a cartoon—a cartoon!—implying that taxes are high and that people don’t like paying them:

The text also includes an ideologically slanted cartoon. [“Gibbs, I subtracted your federal, state and social security taxes and medical from your paycheck, and you owe the firm $50.” The caption for the cartoon reads: “Taxes fund public programs and services, but some question the need for that spending and criticize the burden those taxes place on taxpayers. What comment does this cartoon make?”]

What’s Wrong? The text gives students the impression that Americans are very heavily taxed without placing this information in historical or cross-national context. For instance, the text could have mentioned that according to the Congressional Budget Office in 2011, federal taxes as a percentage of the GDP were at their lowest rate since 1950. The text might also have mentioned that the United States has the lowest corporate tax burden of any member nation of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The use of this cartoon is also unbalanced because the text provides no counterbalancing illustration suggesting that excessively low taxes might lead to economic insecurity and poverty, or critical of the lack of an adequate safety net for low-income Americans.

The Network evidently has no sense of humor. Instead of including a cartoon that’s making a joke, the text should have told students that taxes in the United States are low by historic and international standards. The Network’s “facts” are incorrect; federal taxes as a percentage of GDP sank in the aftermath of the economic crisis, but have rebounded, and are nearly as high as they were in 1942! And, we have the highest corporate tax rate in the OECD; we collect less revenue from it than the other members because (a) Congress enacts loopholes to benefit campaign contributors and (b) our high rate encourages firms to structure their earning to avoid taxation—and even to shift operations and ownership overseas. I’m inclined to count this complaint trivial, but it shows how far the Network is willing to go to insist that textbooks ought to reflect Democratic talking points. Bogus.


5. “Several world geography and history textbooks suffer from an incomplete – and often inaccurate – account of religions other than Christianity.”

Here, the Network is on firmer ground. Geographers and historians aren’t specialists in religion or philosophy, and they often oversimplify or make mistakes. Consider some particular complaints:

(a) In describing Buddhism’s second Noble Truth, one text says, “Selfishness is the cause of suffering,” and later calls it “a cause of suffering.” The Network says the first is wrong and the second misleading, since, “According to the Buddha, the cause of suffering is not selfishness but desire; selfishness is only one form of desire.” The Pali term is tanha, which is usually translated as desire, selfish desire, or craving. It’s not far from the Biblical term ‘coveting.’ Though the text’s claim isn’t without any basis—selfish desire is an acceptable translation—selfishness by itself isn’t a very good rendering. I consider the complaint reasonable.

(b) Another book says, “Hindus are strict vegetarians.” Not true, says the Network, and they’re right. Some Hindu darshanas prohibit meat-eating, but others don’t. Reasonable.

(c) A Teachers’ Edition states, “All three religions [Judaism, Christianity, Islam] see Jesus as an important prophet, but only Christians see him as the messiah, or expected leader and savior.” Not so, the Network observes; most Jews do not think of Jesus as a prophet. That’s right; the complaint is reasonable.

(d) The Network criticizes one book for its imbalance: “The lesson on the history of Southwest Asia devotes only six sentences to Judaism’s origins and does not include a discussion of the Diaspora. By contrast, the lesson devotes two pages to Islam and its spread.” Their objection: “This is not adequate attention to the important events surrounding the history of the Jewish faith tradition and culture.” In a history book I think this choice would be sensible; the spread of Islam dominated the history of a substantial portion of the world for centuries, and included the many wars mentioned in an earlier post in this series. In a book on world cultures and geography, however, it seems less defensible. Judaism is the leading religion only in Israel, so, even for such a book, one could argue, its spread deserves less attention than the spread of Islam. But it’s not clear whether that argument is decisive. I count this one debatable.

(e) “Coverage of key Christian concepts and historical events are lacking in a few textbooks, often due to the assumption that all students are Christians and familiar with Christian events and doctrine.” The books generally don’t define such terms as ‘Protestant,’ ‘Catholic,’ ‘Orthodox,’ though they do define ‘Sunni,’ ‘Shi’ite,’ etc. The Network observes:

Whereas the lesson on Southwest Asia states: “The teachings of Jesus led to the rise of Christianity,” it does not explain what those teachings were or how Christianity spread. In contrast, the authors devote a full page to the teachings of Muhammad, Muslim practices (the Five Pillars), and the spread of Islam.

What’s Wrong? Given the increasing number of Texas students who come from outside the Christian tradition, textbooks should not assume that readers are familiar with what Christianity is and how it spread.

I’m amused that the Network demands more discussion of Christianity; I suspect the authors were worried that such discussion would have led to the opposite complaint. And the authors undoubtedly thought, correctly, that the percentage of Christians in their intended audience would be much higher than the percentage of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, etc. But it’s a fair point. Even Christian students often have a sketchy conception of the teachings and history of their own religion. And those with other religious beliefs, or with no religious background at all, are likely to have even less exposure to the history and teachings of Christianity. So, I consider this objection reasonable.


4. “All of the world geography textbooks inaccurately downplay the role that conquest played in the spread of Christianity.”

See what’s happening here? According to the Texas Freedom Network, textbooks aren’t allowed to say that Islam has been spread primarily through conquest, even though that’s true. They are required to say that Christianity has been spread primarily by conquest, even though that’s false. The narrative is supposed to be that Islam is good and Christianity is bad. Anything that deviates from that line should be kept out of the books that children will be assigned to read.

Here’s the kind of thing the offending texts say:

When Europeans arrived, they brought Christianity with them and spread it among the indigenous people. Over time, Christianity became the main religion in Latin America.

Priests came to Mexico to convert Native Americans to the Roman Catholic religion. The Church became an important part of life in the new colony. Churches were built in the centers of towns and cities, and church officials became leaders in the colony.

The Spanish brought their language and Catholic religion, both of which dominate modern Mexico.

These claims are entirely true. So, what’s the problem? The Network explains:

The Christianization of the indigenous peoples of the Americas was most decidedly not benign. These descriptions provide a distorted picture of the spread of Christianity. An accurate account must include information about the forced conversion of native peoples and the often-systematic destruction of indigenous religious institutions and practices.

This might be reasonable, if the texts gave a detailed account of the Christianization of Latin America that omitted any mention of violence. But they don’t give a detailed account. It’s hard to see why they would have to, unless it’s to support the “Western Civilization is evil” position of the Network.

Recall that these are geography books, not history books, and not histories of Latin America. The complaint is bogus.

We’ve been seeing a pattern: the Texas Freedom Network denounces textbooks, not for saying things that are false, but for declining to give their preferred narrative. They attack books for giving arguments on the other side of their own political positions.

This is clear from their treatment of World History textbooks. Let’s look at their next complaint:

3. “Several world history and world geography textbooks include biased statements that inappropriately portray Islam and Muslims negatively.”

(a) One text says, “Much of the violence you read or hear about in the Middle East is related to a jihad.” The Network cries foul: “This broad charge effectively blames Islam for a very complex cycle of violence and counter-violence, a cycle driven by a host of factors (e.g., natural resources, population pressures) besides radical Islam.” But the text says that much of the violence relates to jihad. My objection would be that ‘relates to’ is vague; how does it relate? Events and patterns of events, however, can easily relate to many different things; saying that much violence relates to jihad doesn’t in any way deny that other factors are at work as well. What the text says is true. It seems the Network wants the texts to whitewash Islam’s role in promoting violence. The complaint is bogus.

(b) One text says, “The spread of international terrorism is an outgrowth of Islamic fundamentalism which opposes Western political and cultural influences and Western ideology.” The Network objects: “Not all international terrorism is an outgrowth of Islamic fundamentalism; for example, ETA in Spain and the Irish Republican Army are unrelated to Islamic fundamentalism.” But the ETA and the IRA aren’t international in anything like the same sense. Bogus.

(c) The same text speaks of the Middle East and North Africa as being “occupied” by Muslims. The Network says “the use of loaded terms like ‘occupied’ makes little sense when discussing the Middle Ages, when the population of those regions were by and large Muslim themselves.” I wish the same sensitivity were at work when people use the term to refer to Gaza or the West Bank! Still, I rate this complaint reasonable.

(d) The Network reports that the text maintains that “Islam synthesized, stored, and annotated Classical Greek and Roman learning but did not do much to add to it,” and objects that “in nearly every instance the ‘original’ scientist whose work inspired the scientist described is identified, which serves to minimize the contribution of Islamic scholarship.” It’s hard to evaluate this objection without looking in detail at each figure discussed and the particulars of the discussion. Some Islamic scholars were highly original; others made relatively minor contributions, serving mostly to transmit Greek or Indian ideas. So, let’s call this one debatable.

(e) Another book points out that “In the centuries after Muhammad’s death, Muslims spread their religion by conquest. Islamic rulers took control of Southwest Asia, Central Asia, North Africa, and parts of India and Spain.” That’s uncontroversially true, even if politically incorrect. The Network holds, “This is a half-truth. While in this period Islam did spread in part by conquest, it was also taken to many regions (for instance, Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia) by traders and missionaries, not by conquest.” But notice that the book says nothing about Sub-Saharan Africa or those other parts of Asia (Indonesia, for example). ‘Half-true’ here appears to mean ‘true, but leaving out what we’d prefer they talk about.’ Islam spread by many means, not least offering people with little wealth a vast reduction in taxes. But the history of conquest is undeniable:

  • Byzantine–Arab Wars: 634–750
  • The conquest of Syria, 637
  • The conquest of Armenia, 639
  • The conquest of Egypt, 639
  • The conquest of North Africa, 652
  • The conquest of Cyprus, 654
  • The conquest of North Africa, 665
  • The first Arab siege of Constantinople, 674–678
  • The second Arab siege of Constantinople, 717–718
  • Conquest of Hispania, 711–718
  • The conquest of Georgia, 736
  • The conquest of Crete, 820
  • The conquest of southern Italy, 827
  • Conquest of Persia and Iraq: 633–651
  • Conquest of Transoxiana: 662–709
  • Conquest of Sindh: 664–712
  • Conquest of Hispania (711–718) and Septimania (719–720)
  • Conquest of the Caucasus: 711–750
  • Conquest of Nubia: 700–1606
  • Incursions into southern Italy: 831–902
  • Conquest of Anatolia: 1060–1360
  • Byzantine-Ottoman Wars: 1299–1453
  • Balkan invasion and civil war: 1341–1371
  • Fall of Constantinople: 1453
  • European attacks: 1200–1800
  • Wars in Albania
  • Bosnian Resistance
  • Croatian Resistance
  • Occupation of central parts of Hungarian Kingdom
  • Serbian Resistance 1463–1503
  • Wars with Venice 1462–1483
  • Wallachian and Moldavian campaigns 1526–1566
  • Attack on Habsburg Empire 1522–1573
  • Rhodes, Malta and the Holy League 1570–1571
  • Conquest of Cyprus 1593–1669
  • Austria,Venice and Wallachia 1620–1621
  • Poland 1657–1683
  • Conclusion of Wars with Habsburgs 1672–1676
  • Poland 1683–1699
  • Great Turkish War – Loss of Hungary and the Morea
  • Attacks on India 636–713
  • Invasion of the Western coast of India 636–870
  • Attacks on Hindu Afghanistan 870–1030
  • Turkish eorts to subdue the Punjab 1000–1030
  • Devastating campaigns of Mahmud of Ghazni 1175–1206
  • Muhammad Ghauri’s conquest of northwestern India and the Gangetic valley 1398–1405
  • Tamarlane’s destruction of northern India

The complaint is bogus.



Yesterday I talked about the Texas Freedom Network’s report on textbooks submitted to satisfy the new Texas Social Studies standards, looking at one set of complaints. Today I’ll continue by evaluating additional issues raised by the report, again as reasonable, debatable, or bogus.

2. “Two government textbooks include misleading information that undermines the Constitutional concept of the separation of church and state.”

The first of these contains the sentence, “Thomas Jefferson once referred to the establishment clause as a ‘wall of separation between church and state.’ That phrase is not used in the Constitution, however.” The Network admits, “The statement is factually correct.” So, what’s the problem? “[I]t could give students the inaccurate impression that Jefferson’s view was personal and lacked significant connection to the First Amendment.” The Network wants the text to mention that James Madison also held this view. (Did he? If he did, why isn’t it in the Constitution? Could he himself have thought it was his own personal view and not a matter of law?) The Network also wants the text to talk about the Supreme Court’s use of the phrase in subsequent decisions. That use is of course controversial. The general form of this complaint, then, is that the textbook says something true that someone could take as undermining the Network’s preferred view of controversial issues without discussing other things that might help to support their view. We’ll see that form again and again. I rate this bogus.

The Network complains that the second textbook doesn’t mention the “wall of separation” at all. I see no reason why a textbook author has to mention things that support the Network’s position on disputed political questions. So, this too looks bogus.

The next complaint against that textbook is that it presents an unbalanced view of the school prayer decisions, in particular Engel v. Vitale, discussing the lower courts’ reasoning in support of school prayer more extensively than the Supreme Court’s reasoning against it. That might be because the Court’s reasoning is simple, and doesn’t require much discussion:

The petitioners contend, among other things, that the state laws requiring or permitting use of the Regents’ prayer must be struck down as a violation of the Establishment Clause because that prayer was composed by governmental officials as a part of a governmental program to further religious beliefs. For this reason, petitioners argue, the State’s use of the Regents’ prayer in its public school system breaches the constitutional wall of separation between Church and State. We agree with that contention, since we think that the constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion must at least mean that, in this country, it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government….

There can be no doubt that New York’s state prayer program officially establishes the religious beliefs embodied in the Regents’ prayer.

Still, a textbook should try to present arguments on both sides in as balanced a way as possible. So, I rate this complaint reasonable.

The Texas Freedom Network, a left-wing group as committed to Freedom as the former German Democratic Republic was committed to democracy, has issued a report blasting the textbooks that publishers have submitted to the Texas State Board of Education to go along with the new state guidelines, passed in 2010 after considerable controversy, which I wrote about here. Some of the complaints are justifiable, though generally minor. But most are tendentious, to put it kindly. In fact most of the “errors” they allege are not errors at all, but differences in emphasis.

Let’s look at some of the “critical issues” the Texas Freedom Network report identifies. I’ll classify them as reasonable, debatable, or bogus.

1. “A number of government and world history textbooks exaggerate Judeo-Christian influence on the nation’s founding and Western political tradition.” How do they do this?

(a) One mentions the Biblical idea of a covenant as influencing the Founders’ concept of the social contract, which, the Network argues, is in John Locke “in many ways a repudiation of the biblical covenant view.” Is that true? It would be fair enough to point out that in Chapter 8 of the Second Treatise of Government Locke observes that the Jews are to some extent an exception to his point about the social contract being the foundation of government, “where God himself immediately interposed.” He goes on to give examples to support his social contract view from the histories of Greece, Rome, and Venice. But that doesn’t deny that the social contract is analogous to the Biblical covenant. This claim isn’t an error; it’s at worst debatable.

(b) Other textbooks list Moses as among the figures who influenced the Founders’ conception of government for originating the concept of a written code of laws. The Network complains that this is vague: Which laws? They also object that Mosaic law is given by God, unlike the laws of a republic. But that does nothing to deny that the concept of public, written laws to live by is important to the American Founding and in fact to the concept of the rule of law itself. I would have thought that a better objection would be that Hammurabi dates from the 18th century BC, while most scholars date Moses as having lived sometime between the 16th and 13th centuries BC. Still, the thought that the Ten Commandments have influenced our conception of law strikes me as uncontroversial. So, this complaint strikes me as bogus.

(c) Still another book states, “The Framers’ political thinking was influenced by a Judeo-­Christian religious heritage, which includes traditions common to both Judaism and Christianity. These religions see the law and individual rights as being of divine origin. Moreover, the Framers benefited from the Protestant Reformation, a sixteenth-‐century Christian reform movement whose leaders developed ideas about individual responsibility, the freedom to worship as one chooses, and self-­government.” That seems uncontroversial. Why does the Network object? I’ll quote them fully, since this paragraph exemplifies the sloppy thinking behind many other objections:

This passage gives no example of a law or set of laws in the Bible that influenced the Founders and no example of a Founder or a founding document that was influenced by the “Judeo-Christian” concept of law. The text’s claim that the Reformation was a source of the Founders’ views on individual responsibility omits several important pieces of information. Major figures in the Protestant Reformation such as Martin Luther and John Calvin may have supported freedom of worship for their own views, but they often did not support freedom of worship for many competing religious views. Similarly, the views of major Reformation figures, including Luther and Calvin, about self-government were far more limited than, and had little in common with, the views of the American Founders about self-government. Finally, the paragraph could leave students with a misleading impression about the Founders’ religious views. The passage’s claim that Judaism and Christianity stresses that individual rights is of “divine origin” and that these views influenced all of the Founders suggests that all of the Founders believed that this biblical God was the source of natural rights. Many Founders did, of course, believe in the biblical God. Other Founders, though, were influenced by deism, and their conception of God departed in significant ways from the biblical God.

Let’s take that bit-by-bit.

This passage gives no example of a law or set of laws in the Bible that influenced the Founders and no example of a Founder or a founding document that was influenced by the “Judeo-Christian” concept of law.

Since when is failure to cite an example in a given passage an argument against it? Besides, isn’t this easy to do? Recognize this passage from the beginning of a founding document?

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

“Laws of Nature”? “Nature’s God”? “Creator”? Sounds like some influence to me. I rate this complaint bogus.

But let’s continue:

The text’s claim that the Reformation was a source of the Founders’ views on individual responsibility omits several important pieces of information. Major figures in the Protestant Reformation such as Martin Luther and John Calvin may have supported freedom of worship for their own views, but they often did not support freedom of worship for many competing religious views. Similarly, the views of major Reformation figures, including Luther and Calvin, about self-government were far more limited than, and had little in common with, the views of the American Founders about self-government.

But to say that this passage “omits several important pieces of information” is no argument against its truth. I take it as obvious that Thomas Jefferson influenced Abraham Lincoln; that they might have disagreed about a number of issues, and even disagreed about the proper role of the federal government, is no argument against that claim. This one too is bogus.

Finally, the paragraph could leave students with a misleading impression about the Founders’ religious views. The passage’s claim that Judaism and Christianity stresses that individual rights is of “divine origin” and that these views influenced all of the Founders suggests that all of the Founders believed that this biblical God was the source of natural rights. Many Founders did, of course, believe in the biblical God. Other Founders, though, were influenced by deism, and their conception of God departed in significant ways from the biblical God.

This is inaccurate; the textbook spoke of “the Framers” generically, saying nothing about “all of the Founders.” Moreover, that some Founders were deists does nothing to refute the assertion that even their conceptions of rights were influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition. “X was influenced by Y” is NOT refuted by the fact that X and Y disagreed about certain issues, even certain foundational issues. Again, the complaint is bogus.

(d) Another textbook writes (again, I would have thought, uncontroversially), ““The roots of democratic government in today’s world – including government in the United States – lie deep in human history. They reach back most particularly to ancient Greece and Rome, and include elements related to Judeo-­Christian philosophy, dating back thousands of years to Old Testament texts and Biblical figures such as Moses and Solomon.” The Network complains that Moses and Solomon did not govern democratically. But that is neither here nor there; the text makes no such claim. The roots, the book says, include elements related to Judeo-Christian philosophy. That’s a very cautious claim, analogous to asserting that the roots of the theory of relativity include elements related to medieval impetus theory. That’s surely true, and pointing out that Albert of Saxony was no relativity theorist cuts no ice against it. So, the Network’s objection is bogus.

(e) One book states, “Because one of Jesus’s basic principles was the equality of all people in the eyes of God, equality before the law became a central belief within the Judeo-Christian tradition.” What’s wrong with that? Jesus wasn’t the first to think so, says the Network—but the book in no way implies that he was! Moreover, the chain of causation isn’t straightforward—unlike all those other historical trends spanning millennia that ARE straightforward? Perhaps it will suffice to quote Locke, describing the state of nature as

A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty. (emphasis added)

Locke begins his discussion of property similarly: “God, who hath given the world to men in common….” The link between equality and the will of God is not deeply hidden in the shrouds of history; it’s right there in the chief philosophical text underlying the American Founding, at the beginning of its most famous sections. Bogus.

Tomorrow I’ll look at the Network’s objections to textbook portrayals of the separation of church and state.


Headline at the Times of Israel: “Obama: US won’t be able to defend Israel if peace talks fail.” Jeffrey Goldberg writes,

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the White House tomorrow, President Barack Obama will tell him that his country could face a bleak future — one of international isolation and demographic disaster — if he refuses to endorse a U.S.-drafted framework agreement for peace with the Palestinians. Obama will warn Netanyahu that time is running out for Israel as a Jewish-majority democracy. And the president will make the case that Netanyahu, alone among Israelis, has the strength and political credibility to lead his people away from the precipice.

In an hourlong interview Thursday in the Oval Office, Obama, borrowing from the Jewish sage Rabbi Hillel, told me that his message to Netanyahu will be this: “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?”

But of course Obama is getting Hillel wrong, in letter and in spirit. Hillel famously said,

If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? But if I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?

If I were Benjamin Netanyahu, I would quote Hillel back at him. “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?” Certainly the chief responsibility of the Prime Minister of Israel is to look out for Israel.


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