Ideas in Progress: Rising Illiberalism, a New Study on Authoritarianism, and Anti-CRT Legislation

A new study funded in part by IHS “should settle the question” of whether left-wing authoritarianism exists, The Atlantic says.

Ideas in Progress Newsletter

An Institute for Humane Studies Newsletter

Three Forces That Threaten Liberalism

Liberalism — the philosophical, moral, and political system that begins with the recognition that all human beings are created equal — has made the world richer and happier over the past two-and-a-half centuries. So why is illiberalism currently on the rise both globally and here at home? Writing in Discourse magazine, IHS President Emily Chamlee-Wright identifies three powerful forces pushing against liberalism: tribalism, scientism, and forgetfulness. Our tribal hardwiring makes liberalism “vulnerable to the corrosive effects of political interests that feed off division,” Chamlee-Wright writes. Scientism — the inappropriate application of scientific methods to the study of human society — “contributes to what Hayek described as the ‘fatal conceit,’ the assumption that a rationally designed order is superior to an emergent order,” Chamlee-Wright says. And liberal culture is vulnerable to forgetting because, she explains, “[w]hen the right response, the just and honorable response, the peacemaking response, no longer requires deliberation, we no longer deliberate. And without deliberation, we can easily forget why those liberal impulses tend to lead to good outcomes, and that can lead to personal, civic and public policy decisions that undermine a liberal society.”

Read Chamlee-Wright’s essay in Discourse magazine

The Psychology of Left-Wing Authoritarianism

A new study led by Emory University psychologist Thomas Costello — and funded in part by an IHS Hayek Fund grant — “should settle the question” of whether left-wing authoritarianism exists, psychiatrist and author Sally Satel writes in The Atlantic. Costello and his co-authors developed a list of statements such as “I should have the right not to be exposed to offensive views” and “If I could remake society, I would put people who currently have the most privilege at the bottom.” Over 7,000 surveyed adults were asked to score each statement from 1 to 7 showing how much they agreed. Costello and his co-authors were then able to map out traits and motivations belonging to left-wing authoritarians, including their similarity to right-wing authoritarians. “Perhaps the most compelling insight emerged from trying to separate subjects’ political ideology from authoritarianism,” Satel writes in The Atlantic. “They found that your ideology — whether you’re a progressive or a Trumpist — is a secondary matter. Whether your values and beliefs are authoritarian or not is more fundamental. ‘Psychologically speaking, authoritarianism comes first,’ Costello told me.”

Read about Costello’s study in The Atlantic

Why Anti-CRT Legislation Is Anti-American

In the September 29 episode of her podcast Banished, IHS senior fellow Amna Khalid discusses the wave of legislation aimed at restricting or banning the teaching of critical race theory. She speaks to Randall Kennedy, professor at Harvard Law, who says he’s appalled by the legislation. “In my view this is analogous to what happened in the 1950s — the panic over communism, the panic over socialism,” Kennedy says. Khalid also speaks to Jeffrey Sachs, professor at Acadia University, who says that “when you drill down into how these bills are being written, you discover very quickly that they’re far more sweeping — and in some cases, far more sloppily drafted — than they probably should be.” Nadine Strossen, former president of the ACLU, also joins the podcast to discuss the implications for critical thinking in education. “If we were to say that the mere fact that speech can be divisive or upsetting — either personally or politically — that that’s not a basis for allowing it to be protected, then we are teaching the wrong lessons about citizenship to these future voters and future leaders of our country,” Strossen tells Khalid.

Listen to Amna Khalid’s Banished podcast episode

Free Expression and Self-Censorship on Campus

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and Real Clear Education released their 2021 College Free Speech Rankings report, drawn from a survey of 37,000 college students. More than 80% of surveyed students reported that they self-censor their views on campus some of the time, while 21% reported self-censoring often. FIRE’s Sean Stevens says in a statement that much of a college’s free expression climate is determined by its administration. “Staking out a leadership position on free speech and open debate resonates with students and has a real effect on a campus’ climate for free expression,” Stevens said. Earlier this year Keith Whittington, professor at Princeton University and chair of the Academic Freedom Alliance, spoke with IHS’s Brad Jackson about free speech on campus. “The scope of available arguments that are accepted on university campuses is shrinking,” Whittington says. “And, especially for faculty, there’s growing concerns that you might find yourself fired if you say the wrong thing.”

Watch Whittington and Jackson’s conversation on YouTube

IHS Celebrates 60 Years

This week IHS is celebrating our 60th anniversary at a small gala in Washington, D.C. To mark the anniversary, we’ve been sharing stories all year about extraordinary scholars in the IHS community, some of whom have worked with IHS for decades.

Read about scholars in the IHS community

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