Thursday, July 16, 2009

Founding of Dickinson College

Dickinson College has a fascinating account of its founding on its website. Its founder, Dr. Benjamin Rush, was deeply committed to liberty and founded the college in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, then the western frontier, to express libertarian values. How much America has lost intellectually, spiritually and morally since that time.

>"The business of education has acquired a new complexion by the independence of our country."

- Benjamin Rush

The Birth of a New College

>Revolution was in the air when Benjamin Rush, a prominent Philadelphia physician, prepared the charter for Dickinson College in 1783. A grammar school founded in Carlisle in 1773 served as the foundation of the new college. In the decade prior to laying the groundwork for Dickinson, Rush had marched alongside the American army, signed the Declaration of Independence, served as a physician to the Philadelphia community, and maintained his eminent position among the progressive political and intellectual minds of the budding nation. He was a revolutionary in the midst of a revolution.

At his core, Rush believed in freedom-freedom of thought and freedom of action. And he believed fully in America's potential for unprecedented achievement. But Rush also believed that the American Revolution did not end when the muskets stopped sounding; that, he felt, was only the beginning. Now that America had fought for its liberties, Americans needed to maintain a nation worthy of those liberties. Rush knew that America could only live up to its own expectations if it was a country built of an educated citizenry. So seven years after he met with other members of the Constitutional Congress to add his signature to the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush signed the charter of a new college on what was then the American frontier. On September 9, 1783, a struggling grammar school in Carlisle was transformed into Dickinson College. Less than a week earlier, the Treaty of Paris had officially ended the Revolution and guaranteed international recognition of the United States of America. Dickinson was the first college charted in these new United States.

Tuta libertas. Those were the words that John Dickinson used describe the new college. Tuta libertas--"A bulwark of liberty." To further his educational enterprise, Rush had asked that Dickinson--known widely as the "Penman of the Revolution" and the governor of Pennsylvania--lend his support and his name to the college that was being established in the western frontier of his state. Dickinson was easily convinced, and together he and Rush set about the task of devising a seal for the college. The image they created--featuring a liberty cap, a telescope, and an open Bible--remains the official college seal today. It represents a mission that has been ingrained in Dickinson College for nearly 225 years: to offer students a useful and progressive education in the arts and sciences, an education grounded in a strong sense of civic duty to become citizen-leaders.

In many ways, Benjamin Rush-the man who set this enduring mission in place- was a man before his time. He was an outspoken opponent of slavery, a vocal proponent of equal education for women, a supporter of the rights of the mentally challenged, and a generous provider of health care to the indigent in Philadelphia. His voice was strong and distinctive, and he believed that the students at Dickinson College could, like him, develop their own voices and positions on issues of the day. They could be leaders and shapers in the new nation.
The Shape of the Story

As the site for this endeavor, Rush chose Carlisle, a town founded in 1751 as the seat of Pennsylvania's Cumberland County. Though a center of government, Carlisle was also a frontier town, located about 25 miles west of the Susquehanna River-at the time, an outpost of westward expansion (unlike today, when Carlisle sits at a central transportation crossroad, with Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia just two hours away). It's safe to assume that this combination of activity and uncertainty would have attracted a man with Rush's educational sensibilities.

From the first, Carlisle was seen as a sort of laboratory for learning-a place, for instance, where Dickinson students could venture from campus to the nearby county courthouse to watch the new American judicial system in action. But it was also a place where, a few decades later, science students could study ecology by actually examining the wilderness of the surrounding Appalachian Mountains. (Dickinson was the first college to introduce field studies into its science curriculum.) These sorts of firsthand experiences, Rush believed, would foster the minds that would lead the next generations of Americans. Time has not diminished Rush's ambitions. Today, this engagement with the wider world continues to guide Dickinson--through internships, field studies, workshop science, and one of the most extensive global education programs in the nation.

In 1784, at the first official meeting of the college's trustees in Carlisle, a Scottish minister and educator named Charles Nisbet was elected the first principal, or president, of Dickinson College. Nisbet had been a supporter of the American Revolution and was well known among America's intellectual circles as an impressive man of learning. Sometimes called a "walking library," Nisbet established high standards of education and scholarship for Dickinson students. Because of these unbending expectations, the college can list among its earliest graduates a U.S. President, a pair of college presidents, two justices of the Supreme Court, a governor, a founding father of the Smithsonian Institution, and at least two abolitionists.

Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Libertarians, The New York Times and Saul Alinsky

My blog on the irrelevance of the New York Times appears on the Republican Liberty Caucus site:

Libertarians, The New York Times and Saul Alinsky

>The small but growing New York State chapter of the Republican Liberty Caucus recently had a spirited debate on our Yahoo! group site as to the best way to respond to the New York Times and its writers. My claim is that it is malevolent neglect. Don’t talk about them. Laugh when they are quoted. Several other New Yorkers argue that a rational response is necessary.

Those who favor free minds and free markets gravitate toward reason and tend to assume that it is through reasonable debate that minds are changed. Ayn Rand argued for reason as the cornerstone of morality and claimed that man is the “rational” as opposed to the “political” animal. But Aristotle considered both to be critical, and was concerned with the inculcation of moral as well as intellectual virtue in the minds of his students. Whether he was successful or not can be judged from the success of his most famous graduate: Alexander the Great.

Putting aside Oscar Wilde’s observation that “man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason”, human rationality is a useful philosophical concept (and one on which the subject of economics thrives) but has limited practical use. In the long run the rational survive and prosper, but in the short run psychological, political and symbolic behavior prevail. The institutionalist economist Thorstein Veblen noted both conspicuous consumption and academic caps and gowns as symbolic phenomena that flourish in their respective arenas, even as we who are rational prefer to drive Hyundais and wear jeans.

The Federalist Papers and the debate about the Constitution reflected the highest degree of reason. But we too often forget that in the late eighteenth century only a propertied minority was allowed to vote. Even so, the Founding Fathers put little stock in the voter’s rationality. The Senate was to be elected by state legislatures and the President was to be elected by the Electoral College. Only Congress was to be directly elected.

There were three steps to the expansion of democracy. The first was the granting of universal white male suffrage in the Age of Jackson. The second was the Progressives’ institution of direct election of Senators and, in some states, referenda, recalls and initiatives, along with female suffrage. The third was the fulfillment of the 15th Amendment in the 1960s, giving African Americans more equal ballot access.

By the time of the second extension of democracy in the Progressive era, Progressives were noticing public opinion’s malleability. John Dewey argued that the public needed to be provided with simplified pictures of public issues and this was to be the responsibility of the press. Walter Lippmann, the most conservative of the three founders of the New Republic magazine (the other two were Herbert Croly and Walter Weyl), was pessimistic about the ability of the public to make rational decisions. Lippmann was critical of the press as well. By the 1950s, left wing sociologists like C. Wright Mill were arguing that the centralization of mass media enabled a power elite to dominate public opinion.

The history of Athens reminds us that public emotion and demagoguery threaten democracy. In part because the Founding Fathers were concerned with classical history, they favored republicanism as opposed to direct democracy. After a century of democratized republicanism, it is safe to say that the broad extension of democracy has dimmed the expression of public will. The majority is easily misled and manipulated, and finds itself supporting policies whose results are opposite of what it expects. The symbolism of the New Deal and the Great Society is sufficient to generate public support for these policies even as they have caused diminishing real hourly real wages since 1970.

Read the whole thing at: