Ideas in Progress: Dorian Abbot, the Illiberal Right, and the Patriot Act

Dorian Abbot tells IHS senior fellow Amna Khalid he was blindsided by MIT’s decision to cancel his lecture.

Ideas in Progress Newsletter

An Institute for Humane Studies Newsletter


Dorian Abbot Talks About Being ‘Canceled’ by MIT

On her podcast Banished, IHS senior fellow Amna Khalid interviews Dorian Abbot, associate professor of geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago, about his canceled Carlson Lecture at MIT. Abbot was scheduled to speak about applying Earth’s climate models to other planets outside our solar system, which can provide insights about climate change on Earth and about the habitability of other planets. But MIT abruptly canceled the lecture when students complained that Abbot has criticized diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives on campus for promoting the evaluation of academic candidates by race instead of merit. On the podcast, Abbot tells Khalid he was blindsided by
MIT’s decision to cancel the lecture. “The department chair wanted to talk to me,” he recalls. “I thought what was going to happen was that he was going to say, ‘You know, we’ve got these students who are kind of hot and bothered about this, but, you know, that’s okay. We explained to them: He has his opinion, you can have your opinion, and that’s not the subject of this talk. And we also explained to them that MIT values academic freedom. And we have a set of punishments in place for people who disrupt seminars, and we’re going to go ahead with your seminar.’” But instead, the chair told him MIT was canceling the lecture. “I guess I was kind of shocked,” Abbot tells Khalid. “I didn’t think that could happen at MIT.”

Listen to Amna Khalid interview Dorian Abbot on Banished


Samuel Goldman Responds to the Illiberal Right in The New York Times

Adrian Vermeule, a Harvard professor of constitutional law, has proposed a “common-good” reading of the Constitution to create an “illiberal legalism” founded on “substantive moral principles that conduce to the common good,” The New York Times reports. But IHS senior fellow Samuel Goldman explains to the Times why that’s not viable. While many of America’s founding fathers originally imagined the U.S. “as a kind of Christian nation state, in which public institutions would play a significant role in promoting virtue,” Goldman explains, “[i]t didn’t work out that way, because even at the time, the population was too diverse, the institutions were too precariously balanced to permit it.” He said American “postliberals” seem to be taking a strange trip “back to an intellectual world that no longer exists.”

Read Samuel Goldman’s quote in The New York Times


Professor Argues Child Tax Credit Is ‘Pro-Freedom’

Matt Zwolinski, a professor of philosophy at the University of San Diego who has partnered with IHS frequently over the years, argues in an op-ed that “there are good reasons for those with conservative and libertarian values to support” the Child Tax Credit at the center of the Build Back Better plan. “America currently has one of the highest child poverty rates in the developed world — with 1 in 7 children living under the official poverty line,” Zwolinksi writes. “Providing financial assistance to families with young children has been shown to yield long-term financial benefits. Children who receive assistance get more education, commit fewer crimes, are less likely to use drugs, and have better health. Even if you forget about the fact that these are human beings we’re helping and simply focus on the dollars and cents, the CTC is a fiscally sound
policy.”

Read Matt Zwolinki’s op-ed in The Daily Caller


Jonathan Haidt Explains How Monomania Is Illiberal

There is a subset of college students “who suffer from monomania,” Jonathan Haidt writes in Persuasion, “which is defined as an exaggerated and unhealthy obsession with one thing.” Haidt, a professor of ethical leadership at NYU’s Stern School of Business and co-author of “The Coddling of the American Mind,” spoke previously at an IHS event about the emotional fragility of today’s college students. Now Haidt explains how students’ monomania is contributing to their illiberalism. “Within a group of people competing for
prestige on adherence to a belief, one can often gain points by publicly attacking outsiders,” Haidt writes. “This creates an incentive for individuals in the group to attack not just their enemies, who are often out of reach, but innocent people who happen to be nearby. This dynamic may account for the cruelty with which power monomaniacs turn on professors and administrators who try to help them, or who otherwise share their political views but not their monomania.”

Watch Jonathan Haidt’s previous IHS lecture


20th Anniversary of the Patriot Act

The Patriot Act was signed into law on October 26, 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks. On a Cato Daily Podcast episode this month, Christopher Coyne, professor of economics at George Mason University and a member of IHS’ board of directors, looks back after 20 years. “The very purpose of it was to expand the surveillance capabilities of the U.S. government,” Coyne tells podcast host Caleb Brown. The way the law was written left it ripe for abuse, Coyne says. “Anytime you concentrate significant amounts of power — specifically, discretionary power — in the hands of a centralized entity with few checks on that power, it can be abused.” Coyne is the co-author of the new book “Manufacturing Militarism: U.S. Government Propaganda in the War on Terror,” written with Abigail Hall, associate professor of economics at Bellarmine University. The book has been called “a timely and far-reaching study of the role state-sponsored propaganda has played and continues to play in 21st-century American life.”

Listen to Christopher Coyne’s interview on the Cato Daily Podcast


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