Progressivism and college football

George Will reviews The Rise of Gridiron University: Higher Education’s Uneasy Alliance with Big-Time Football by Brian M. Ingrassia, in which we learn that big-time intercollegiate football grew out of progressivism and its vision for higher education:

Higher education embraced athletics in the first half of the 19th century, when most colleges were denominational and most instruction was considered mental and moral preparation for a small minority — clergy and other professionals. Physical education had nothing to do with spectator sports entertaining people from outside the campus community. Rather, it was individual fitness — especially gymnastics — for the moral and pedagogic purposes of muscular Christianity — mens sana in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body.

The collective activity of team sports came after a great collective exertion, the Civil War, and two great social changes, urbanization and industrialization. . . . .

Intercollegiate football began when Rutgers played Princeton in 1869, four years after Appomattox. In 1878, one of Princeton’s two undergraduate student managers was Thomas — he was called Tommy — Woodrow Wilson. For the rest of the 19th century, football appealed as a venue for valor for collegians whose fathers’ venues had been battlefields. Stephen Crane, author of the Civil War novel “The Red Badge of Courage” (1895) — the badge was a wound — said: “Of course, I have never been in a battle, but I believe that I got my sense of the rage of conflict on the football field.”

Harvard philosopher William James then spoke of society finding new sources of discipline and inspiration in “the moral equivalent of war.” Society found football, which like war required the subordination of the individual, and which would relieve the supposed monotony of workers enmeshed in mass production.

College football became a national phenomenon because it supposedly served the values of progressivism, in two ways. It exemplified specialization, expertise and scientific management. And it would reconcile the public to the transformation of universities, especially public universities, into something progressivism desired but the public found alien. Replicating industrialism’s division of labor, universities introduced the fragmentation of the old curriculum of moral instruction into increasingly specialized and arcane disciplines. These included the recently founded social sciences — economics, sociology, political science — that were supposed to supply progressive governments with the expertise to manage the complexities of the modern economy and the simplicities of the uninstructed masses. [Read more...]

Progressivism and omnipotent government

In line with the “Obama as Messiah” post, here is another example of secularism turning into paganism.  Godless people, trying to fill the void, can also invest the state with divine power and authority.  Drawing on Charles R. Kesler’s I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism, George Will shows that progressive politics, from the beginning, has an intrinsic connection to the belief in unlimited government power that can then solve all problems:

Progress, as progressives understand it, means advancing away from, up from, something. But from what?

From the Constitution’s constricting anachronisms. In 1912, Wilson said, “The history of liberty is the history of the limitation of governmental power.” But as Kesler notes, Wilson never said the future of liberty consisted of such limitation.

Instead, he said, “every means . . . by which society may be perfected through the instrumentality of government” should be used so that “individual rights can be fitly adjusted and harmonized with public duties.” Rights “adjusted and harmonized” by government necessarily are defined and apportioned by it. Wilson, the first transformative progressive, called this the “New Freedom.” The old kind was the Founders’ kind — government existing to “secure” natural rights (see the Declaration) that preexist government. Wilson thought this had become an impediment to progress. The pedigree of Obama’s thought runs straight to Wilson.

And through the second transformative progressive, Franklin Roosevelt, who counseled against the Founders’ sober practicality and fear of government power: “We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides the practical from the ideal” and are making government “an instrument of unimagined power” for social improvement. The only thing we have to fear is fear of a government of unimagined power:

“Government is a relation of give and take.” The “rulers” — FDR’s word — take power from the people, who in turn are given “certain rights.”

This, says Kesler, is “the First Law of Big Government: the more power we give the government, the more rights it will give us.” It also is the ultimate American radicalism, striking at the roots of the American regime, the doctrine of natural rights. . . . [Read more...]

The era of black-and-white TV

President Obama dismissed the Republican convention in these terms:

“Despite all the challenges that we face … what they offered over those three days was more often than not an agenda that was better suited for the last century. It was a re-run. We’ve seen it before. You might as well have watched it on a black-and-white TV.”

If only it were!  That was the last time anything was consistently good on television.  That was the golden age of TV, the era of Jack Benny, Gracie Allen, Rod Serling, Edward R. Murrow.

The  Eisenhower administration!  The early Elvis!  Intact families!  Route 66!

I guess the dividing line would be one’s attitude to the counter culture beginning in the late 1960s.  Liberals would generally favor that, I suppose, with Conservatives bemoaning the changes (e.g., the sexual revolution).

Though the era of black-and-white TV was a vibrant, creative, and positive time culturally for America, it was no utopia, with real problems.  For example, the institutionalized racism of the Jim Crow laws.  But compare the early Civil Rights protesters–moral, religious, dignified–with today’s Occupy Wall Street protesters (unfocused, hedonistic, squalid).  And, if you want counter culture, surely the Beatniks, reading existentialist philosophy and listening to jazz, were cooler than the Hippies, tripped out on acid and wearing flowers in their hair.

I wonder if we could date our cultural collapse from the advent of color television.  (The first all-color lineup was in 1966, which would be about right.)

via Obama: RNC fare for ‘black-and-white TV’ – POLITICO.com.

From citizens to clients

George Will sums up Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic by Jay Cost, who argues “that the party has succumbed to ‘clientelism,’ the process of purchasing cohorts of voters with federal favors.”

Before Franklin Roosevelt, “liberal” described policies emphasizing liberty and individual rights. He, however, pioneered the politics of collective rights — of group entitlements. And his liberalism systematically developed policies not just to buy the allegiance of existing groups but to create groups that henceforth would be dependent on government.

Under FDR, liberalism became the politics of creating an electoral majority from a mosaic of client groups. Labor unions got special legal standing, farmers got crop supports, business people got tariff protection and other subsidies, the elderly got pensions, and so on and on.

Government no longer existed to protect natural rights but to confer special rights on favored cohorts. As Irving Kristol said, the New Deal preached not equal rights for all but equal privileges for all — for all, that is, who banded together to become wards of the government.

In the 1960s, public-employee unions were expanded to feast from quantitative liberalism (favors measured in quantities of money). And qualitative liberalism was born as environmentalists, feminists and others got government to regulate behavior in the service of social “diversity,” “meaningful” work, etc. Cost notes that with the 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act, a few government-approved minorities were given an entitlement to public offices: About 40 “majority-minority” congressional districts would henceforth be guaranteed to elect minority members.

Walter Mondale, conceding to Ronald Reagan after the 1984 election, listed the groups he thought government should assist: “the poor, the unemployed, the elderly, the handicapped, the helpless and the sad.” Yes, the sad.

Republicans also practice clientelism, but with a (sometimes) uneasy conscience. Both parties have narrowed their appeals as they have broadened their search for clients to cosset.

via George Will: An election to call voters’ bluff – The Washington Post.

One giant leap for a man

Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, has died.  Another  Lutheran with an interesting vocation.

UPDATE:  It appears he was NOT Lutheran, identifying himself at one point as a “Deist.”  Thanks to you factcheckers in the comments section.

Archaeology and the Bible’s big picture

Eric Metaxas summarizes some recent findings in Middle Eastern archaeology, ones that confirm not just isolated facts in the Bible but the “big picture” of the Biblical narrative:

Israeli archaeologists recently discovered a coin, dating from the 11th century before Christ. It depicted “a man with long hair fighting a large animal with a feline tail.” Ring any Old Testament bells?

The coin was found near the Sorek River, which was the border between the ancient Israelite and Philistine territories 3,100 years ago. Sound vaguely familiar?

The archaeologists thought so, too. While Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv University don’t claim that the figure depicted on the coin is proof that Samson actually existed, they do see the coin as proof that stories about a Samson-like man existed independently of the Bible.

Stated differently, the story of Samson was not the literary invention of a sixth-century B.C. scribe living in Babylon, as has commonly been assumed by mainstream biblical scholarship.

Bunimovitz and Lederman made another interesting discovery: the Philistine side of the river was littered with pig bones, while there were none on the Israelite side. . . .

The findings at Sorek are only the latest in a series of archaeological discoveries that are changing the way modern historians look at biblical narratives. It’s becoming more difficult for them to maintain that the narratives are pious fictions invented long after the era being depicted.

The most famous of these discoveries is the 1994 discovery of a stele in Tel Dan bearing an inscription that contained the words “House of David.” It was the first extra-biblical evidence of the Davidic dynasty. Prior to the discovery, many scholars doubted that David ever existed, much less founded a dynasty. The discovery was so out-of-line with expectations that more than a few insisted it must be a forgery.

Today, it is clear to even the most skeptical scholar that-surprise!-there really was a David who founded a ruling dynasty. That dynasty included his son, Solomon, and evidence of Solomon’s building projects described in Second Samuel have been found by archaeologists as well.

Some of the discoveries go beyond history and tell us about Israel’s sense of what it meant to be God’s chosen people. Sites dating to before the Exile are littered with Canaanite idols, evidence of the apostasy the prophets denounced and warned would lead to disaster.

Yet there has never been a single idol found in sites dating after the Exile. Clearly, the Jews who returned from the Exile had finally, truly learned that “the Lord our God is one.”

via Archaeology and the Bible.


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