HB2747 brings out the real controversy in school choice

Eric Shierman_thb

by Eric Shierman

There is another controversy involved in implementing a policy of school choice beyond the school districts’ and their unions’ desire not to compete with each other. It’s the unseemly fact that not all children are created equal. HB2747 brings this controversy to the forefront, because it is a bill intended to largely stop Oregon’s progress toward school choice in its tracks by curbing most of its benefits.

The greatest promise that school choice offers our society is not so much reduced spending on education, indeed given that we already have school choice in higher education where the government’s money follows the student and this money is quite measurably inflating the price of a college education, there is little evidence school choice will lead to much cost savings in K-12 either. The greatest promise of school choice comes from a benefit few policymakers seem to want: the efficient allocation of students based on their ability, interests, and motivation to the schools that will best maximize their very diverse individual potential.

My favorite question to pose to school choice advocates is whether or not they are willing to accept the right of schools to choose too, to pick their students rationally rather than randomly. Like a room full of progressives who all deny the scientific evidence from neurobiology in favor Jean Jacques Rousseau’s tabula rasa philosophy of education that assumes a uniform plasticity of childhood, I’ve found that a collection of conservatives will often shutter at the same suggestion. This was definitely on display when I posed the question to Lisa Graham Keegan when she spoke at the Cascade Policy Institute’s Milton Friedman Dinner last year. She defended the use of lotteries to allocate admission to over applied schools because she concluded to a loud applause from a ballroom filled with many leaders of the Oregon Republican Party: every student deserves the same education.

This quest for sameness in America also comes from a uniquely American philosopher of education, John Dewey. His lasting influence more than any other factor explains why the United States spends more than the rest of the world per student, more than Germany and far more than Finland to achieve such mediocre results, results that are demonstrably behind when measured by the things the rest of the world values in primary education such as literacy, numeracy, and writing skills. If however we could measure American public education by the result Dewey valued above all else, social change, then perhaps our schools have been a great success all along. All American students regardless of socio-economic status definitely lead the world in self-esteem.

John Dewey rejected the vocational nature of the German model of mass public education that so successfully dates back to Wilhelm von Humbolt’s reforms and remains emulated around the world today, especially in northern Europe. Dewey asserted the primary purpose of universal public education is not to train a workforce with skills, but rather to socialize students away from the harmful, traditional values of the students’ parents so that society can progress forward with better, more desirable civic virtues.  A school board meeting in Finland lacks the scorched earth debates their American counterparts have, because the Finns are too busy deciding on the best way to teach computer code writing to teenagers, only a tiny fraction of whom get the liberal arts education that the US Department of Education would recognize as foundational to a high school diploma. While Americans are busy fighting over whether or not Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn should be banned for its racial content, the rest of the world is actually training their workforce. America instead trains students to go to college where most of them who actually do will spend another four years of their life at great expense without attaining any vocational training.

School choice threatens to disrupt all this. Its greatest promise is to give students the education they want rather than one that is being forced upon them through monopoly control of the commanding heights of the K-12 education economy. Most students would prefer a turn-key secondary education that prepares them for a career upon graduation at the age of 18. Few parents and even fewer students want an education that instead focuses on conforming young peoples’ beliefs into some politically correct purpose.

HB2747 seeks to block this disruption that was set in motion by the 2011 legislative session’s passage of HB3681 using the seemingly innocuous language of antidiscrimination. HB2747 seeks to amend Oregon’s new open enrollment law to ban a list of characteristics from consideration by the admitting school district. After a long list of uncontroversial ones such as race and religion, this bill also includes “academic record.”  HB2747 then goes even further to mandate the use of a lottery for selection.

The many school systems of the world that outperform US K-12 education do not do so because of better funding or even having better teachers. They do so primarily by rationally separating students by interest, ability, and motivation, matching their students with schools that can maximize a diverse array of innate potential. They don’t allow their schools to be held back by troublemakers or students that simply cannot keep up. Instead troublemaking and achievement gaps get diverted into woodworking and the many other forms of highly skilled craftsmanship that can attract any student’s passion.

American academic achievement averages are lower primarily because the massive resources we throw into education are so inefficiently focused on our fruitless attempts mold our lower quartile into college material that we have long been holding back our two upper quartiles. We help neither in the process. For every student in Oregon to get the most possible out of the considerable resources we already spend on K-12 education there needs to be room for discrimination on the basis of “academic record.”

HB2747 passed the House yesterday but seven Republicans deserve credit for voting against it: Tim Freeman R-Roseburg of District 2, Vic Gilliam R-Silverton of District 18, Bruce Hanna R-Roseburg of District 7, Wally Hicks R-Grants Pass of District 3, Greg Smith R-Heppner of District 57, Jim Weidner R-Yamhill of District 24, and Gail Whitsett R-Klamath Falls of District 56.

This effort to turn back the clock on education reform in Oregon can be defeated in the Senate if Republicans can stand as a unified block against this bill. They would then only have to pick off two Democratic votes which are much easier to find in the Senate than in the House. Yet I cannot help but notice that in that House vote yesterday, Caddy McKeon D-Coos Bay of District 9 managed to find something better to do than cast a vote for her conservative leaning district. Rather than speculate if a citizen journalist was filming her true whereabouts, let me point out that her predecessor is now a conservative leaning member of the Democratic Senate caucus and thus pocketing Arnie Roblan’s easy no vote is a good place to start since this D from Coos Bay now represents the even more conservative Senate District 5 and he voted for HB3681 in 2011.

Where would the second vote come from? How about from one of the four Democratic Senators (Bates, Burdick, Johnson, and Courtney) who also voted for the open enrollment law in 2011? Heck, we don’t even need them to actually vote; they can just be someplace else during the roll call the way Rep. McKeon was yesterday. There’s got to be some political capital to spend for all that Senate Republican support for the CRC. Will Bruce Starr’s leadership materialize when it matters? Can defeating HB2747 serve as his redemption?

Eric Shierman lives in southwest Portland and is the author of A Brief History of Political Cultural Change. He also writes for the Oregonian’s My Oregon blog.


Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to LinkedIn Post to Reddit

Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Education, OR 77th Legislative Session | 18 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Bob Clark

    Oregon is a royal educational mess, and this article correctly suggests it’s only getting worse.

    The misdirection in education starts with the Governor and his crew who somehow came up with this arbitrary figure of 40% of students graduating with 4 year college degrees and 40% graduating with associates degree. Now anybody with any common sense should ask, how the heck does anyone know what the percentages should be and for what time period (because the real percentages should optimally vary even year to year)?

    This Soviet-Harvard type central planning type governance can not hold a candle to the positive outcomes provided by individual school choice. The latter has parents, child, educational service providers, and to some degree future employers coming together in individual transactions choosing an educational path which best meets the skills and passions of the individual parent and child balanced against cost and future market value. But what about equity, as people with limited means are left out? This is where portability of each student’s public monies helps reduce inequity.

    Of course, Oregon is really messed up in governance as it increasingly seeks equal outcomes rather than stopping at equal opportunity. I don’t agree with this article in government authority pre-selecting the educational path for student, as this infringes on equal opportunity. Equal outcomes is a major problem, but it fits with a government molded in the Soviet-Harvard centrally planning model. The major problem is equal outcomes means no one can know what is working and what is not working, where capital and focus is needed and where it would be wasted. It also discourages individuals from working hard and passionately pursuing new ideas. Equal outcomes means more often than not equally poor.

    Oregon governance is a royal mess and much of it has to do with the political dominance of public employee unions, bringing tens of millions of dollars into most every election. Right-to-work would help scale back public employee union dominance over Oregon’s governance, and most likely lessen the Soviet-Harvard governance style increasingly gripping the state.

  • Chana Cox


    I disagree on this. I believe that while competitive enrollment is appropriate for some high schools, like the Bronx High School of
    Science, lottery selections is more appropriate for Oregon’s open enrollment schools and for most Charter schools. From their inception, schools should be clearly identified as either lottery or academically competitive.

    Aristotle defined distributive justice as “treating equals equally,” but the trick is to determine which sorts of criteria are relevant. There are three basic options here: allocation of school slots by merit, allocation of
    school slots by lottery, allocation of school slots by financial need. These options reflect different social values, different problems, and the fact that not all schools should function in the same way. Given the number of schools in our system, I believe that we will have a more effective system if we have competitive high schools and lottery for other schools where there are more applicants than places. There is room for three different kinds of admission policies which will treat equals equally but do so by focusing on either academic merit, random selection, or financial need.

    A school which focuses on a particular academic or vocational discipline should, in general, be allowed to institute competitive admissions. We had a very good Beaverton Science Highschool which, once its reputation was established, was mobbed with students who were not gifted or even interested in science. On the other hand, Oregon’s
    Open Enrollment have been set up at least in part to give children in failing school districts an opportunity to escape their “geography.” I do not think that education should be allocated based on how much parents can afford to spend on housing. Open enrollment already “cherry picks” on the basis of student motivation. It should not do so on the basis of achievement or geography. Currently, school districts are allowed to
    open their enrollment to students from only certain other neighboring
    districts. I think this too undermines the openness of open enrollment. Analogously the so-called “no excuses” charter schools in our inner cities like Harlem Success Academy and the KIPP academies should be lottery schools. They are designed to rescue motivated inner city students from failing schools. In a sense they are already “cherry picking” on the basis of motivation, but to cherry pick on the basis of academic achievement is to undermine their mission. In New York those same students may always apply to the restricted schools like the Bronx Highschool of Science. The students have that choice.

    Incidentally, although, like Eric, I too believe that John Dewey is responsible for much of the failure of the American school system, and I too believe that a universally available baccalaureate system (like the English O levels and A levels or even the New York State Regents exam as they once were) is a good idea, I do not agree with Eric on the virtues of the German model. To suggest that a school system which so eagerly and easily adapted to Nazi ideology is ideologically neutral is bizarre. All schools indoctrinate ethical and even political values although in good schools the indoctrination of values should not be the primary purposes of an educational institution, but for 150 years our public schools taught American values and traditional Judeo-Christian morality. This, I think was a good thing. Unfortunately now too much of the time in K-12 is devoted to teaching ideology (a great deal of which undermines American values and traditional morality) and the schools are simply not teaching much in the way of academic content. A school
    system with competitive enrollment will address only part of these fundamental flaws in our current K-12 system.

    • Distributive justice is not a legitimate goal of state power. There is however considerable legitimate state interest in government investment in education as a public good to maximize future worker productivity. These are of course merely the normative claims of a Lockean liberal.

      For progressives whose normative first principles actually value distributive justice, the rational pursuit of an equality of outcome would still have them reject the uniquely American vain use of random selection in favor of an efficient school choice system that more effectively maximizes every students’ diverse potential by allowing schools to choose too. The redistribution then comes later from a more productive labor force. That is exactly what we see in northern Europe. They value treating equals equally in terms of redistributing resources, but they are under no illusions that all children are equal in their ability, motivations, or interest.

      The primary problem with American education is that it has become entirely focused on college preparation when college itself is the problem. A university education is a wonderful consumption good for those who can afford it, but very little of what passes as a college education adds any value to our economy beyond signaling. The more people who go to college the less efficient college campuses serve as filters for employers to find the most intelligent workers. It has become the least efficient form of signalling imaginable.

      If we allow state money to follow children, and schools to engage in choice too, KIPP Academies will become obsolete when corporations can create their own highly selective farm schools that train young workers with advanced applied knowledge of electronics and computer code writing, placing them into high paying jobs at the age of 18. Similarly for those who lack that kind of aptitude, every cook can have a culinary arts education and every mechanic can turn 18 with the state having given him the knowledge to work on these advanced new cars we drive today. We could enjoy all of this productivity for a fraction of the cost we are footing today.

      Indeed let’s compare this to what is happening today in America. We are spending considerable resources on kids that don’t want to read Shakespeare who either drop out or fake it. Either way they retain nothing. With the grade inflation at not just High Schools, but colleges like say Lewis and Clark, anyone willing to continue to show up and fake it can graduate. As far as the labor market is concerned this is all non value added beyond simply identify who will druge on doing things they don’t want to do as a signal for who will be a dependable worker. After all of these resources and debts have been accumulated, companies still have to spend far more resources training internally than our left-wing European counterparts do.

      There is no state interest in using schools as institutions of social change either. During the 1930s, American k-12 education was no less indoctrinating than Germany’s. The New Deal was our own form of centralizing unchecked power in an executive and using war powers to unite a people behind their leader. There were pictures of FDR in every classroom and the hyper-patriotism that so many conservatives love today such as our pledge of allegiance to the symbol of state power was crystallized in those years, and for it we have developed our own civilian salute.

      The idea that Germany’s school system played a causal role in its political development betrays a lack of understanding of the origins of fascism. As Jonah Goldberg documents quite well for a popular readership in Liberal Fascism, and other more academic historians have revealed in more rigorous detail, national socialism was an American export from the Wilson Administration. It was from his perch at Columbia University’s School of Education that Dewey advised both Wilson and Roosevelt on the goals and means of federal intervention into education as a tool for crafting a progressive national identity.

      While American education was being refitted into becoming focused on indoctrination, Germany’s remained devoted to vocational training even during the war. Nazi propaganda was all pervasive throughout Germany, in the same way American Democratic Party propaganda was all pervasive during the two world wars, but the Germans did not compromise the quality of their public education for the purpose of indoctrination. Students attending a Gymnasium were of course reading a great deal of Carl Schmitt, but not the majority of students who attended the Hochschulen. In America however, they were all reading Upton Sinclair.

      The differences between Germany and the United States emerged only after the war. Both countries tried to reinstate their federalism, (Germany being more successful in that regard) and both shut down their internment camps with little compensation to their former ethnic prisoners, but America also began shutting down its few vocational schools and now every American has to either put up with Gymnasium and the indoctrination that goes with it or drop out.

      Today we may not share the Nazi’s eugenic goals, but there is a great deal about our public policy today that a citizen of the Third Reich would find familiar, and our patriotic embrace of many of these policies does not even need reinforcement from our schools. Human nature provides an innate belief in the exceptionalism of your own nation and the ability of experts to regulate our behavior and the rest of the world’s behavior for the common good.

      The answer is not to have our schools replace progressive indoctrination with conservative indoctrination. The answer is to have a free choice among schools. Few students or parents will choose indoctrination. For those that will, good for them. Let there be a market for Christian schools and let us have full school choice so that those students’ money can follow them to anything from a rigorous Jesuit education to a Muslim madrassa, but for the most part most students will shoot for vocational schools that can place them into a middle class income at the age of 18.

      For this to happen, what you are calling “cherry picking” is essential; it’s a good thing. Rational human interaction cherry picks all the time. Schools will need to brand themselves to both prospective students and their other customers, the hiring employers. Schools will then set standards of admission for the kind of students they want. It will be the responsibility of the students to meet those standards. The only responsibility society has is to get the biggest bang for their invested dollar.

      • 3H

        “There is however considerable legitimate state interest in government investment in education as a public good to maximize future worker productivity.>

        Or, to further the goals of a participatory democracy with an educated and involved citizenry. Such a goal frequently finds itself at odds with a belief that education should produce more efficient worker drones.

        If, however, the goal of education is worker efficiency, isn’t that something the private sector should pay for since they immediately profit?

        • There are several public goods that the private sector cannot fully pay for though market means so these services have to be financed through taxes, public safety for example. Limiting government services to just these few things is what being a Lockean liberal is all about.

          Primary education is demonstrably one of those few areas of compelling need for government investment. The marginal benefit in terms of positive externalities far exceed the marginal costs of publicly financing universal education up to the closing of our language acquisition window around the age of 12. After that there is room for placing limits on what the public should pay based on each individual student’s ability.

          There will always be a very small percentage of a population that are interested in participating in a democracy beyond showing up occasionally to cast an ill-informed vote. No matter how much we spend on education, that will not change. Most people who graduate from college care as much about politics as I care about major league baseball. If we were to achieve universal bachelor degrees, this fraction would not budge.

          Of course Dewey thought otherwise, and in Germany the Frankfurt School thought along similar lines, but we’ve had enough positive analysis from political scientists to observe that the natural behavior of the proles defies idealism and activism. Most of this empirical evidence is laid out in Bryan Caplan’s Myth of the Rational Voter and a very rigorous philosophical argument representing the best of Anglo/American analytic philosophy by Jason Brennan titled The Ethics of Voting shows why we wouldn’t want mass participation anyway, but rather only a diverse participation of those few people who care enough about politics to remain current on public affairs. No amount of education spending will ever make a material impact on the number of people willing to do that.

      • 3H

        I’m intrigued but your statement that government investment in education is to maximize future worker productivity (not that I’m likely to agree). A short explanation of what you mean by that?

        I just bit off 3 other questions I had to keep the answer focused. You have no idea of how much that hurt.

        • The shortest explanation I suppose would be to think of education as an infrastructure like any other where there is not a market means of delivering those services to the optimal point where the marginal costs to society equal the marginal gains in productivity. For example, after accepting that it is a legitimate role of the government to provide a police force for public security, it does not then follow that the state will devote all of society’s resources to its police force. There is an optimal point where we have reached the maximum required expenditure of public resources needed to protect life, liberty, and property.

          Regarding education, once we have reached that point where each additional dollar spent on education no longer yields an additional dollar’s worth of productivity then we have maximized worker productivity. Beyond that point, there remains a lot of room for the consumption of more education services paid for on one’s own dime, but it would be exactly that, a consumption good not an investment good. A great deal of what we are doing at the college level today amounts to consumption, and our high schools are merely preparing people for that expensive act of consumption.

      • Damascusdean

        Eric, it seems to me that the simple fact that the US under Roosevelt and Germany under Hitler were both nation states at similar levels of development that had similar approaches to one or more public policies means you or Jonah Goldberg or anyone with an agenda can find parallels and use them to equate liberal democracy with fascism.

        That is not a very productive intellectual path however, since the same game can be played between any 2 nations under any regimes. What you seem to be doing is finding evidence to make your point, rather than drawing your point from evidence. .

        • There are no political cultural parallels to be found between liberal democracy and fascism. There was nothing liberal about America during those two world wars. We did restore our liberalism immediately following them however. More so after the first than the second.

          The game to which you refer can only be played between two nations that take as you said “similar approaches” both ideologically and in terms of public policy. We cannot compare Nazi Germany to Holland, Switzerland, Austria, Czechoslovakia Sweden, or Canada of the same time period even though they all had a roughly similar per capita GDP and also had to deal with the effects of a global recession.

          The origination of this “similar approach” was Wilson’s second term. After the war, they were voted out of office, but unlike today, there were no think tanks to park themselves at. Many Wilson advisers made their way to Italy in the 1920s as advisers to Mussolini who was roundly celebrated at the time. As I said before, Jonah Goldberg wrote for a popular audience, and his book is flawed in several ways because it does not tell the whole story; it omits fascism’s conservative roots, the William Jennings Bryan wing of Wilson’s Democratic Party. I cited him for Chana because, being a conservative, she is likely familiar with that book. The American origination of fascism is well documented by academic historians such as Carl Schorske, Arno Mayer, Timothy Mason, and Gerald Feldman. It’s also an observation made across the ideological divide from Leon Trotsky’s Fascism: what is it? and how to fight it to Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. It should only be news to the many whose entire knowledge of Nazi Germany can be summed up as: 1) they were militarily aggressive 2) they did the holocaust, and 3) they were evil. There is a lot more to learn about the 20th century than that, but it does not fit into our pasteurized high school history textbooks. A rigorous study of the German people of the 1930s will naturally find they were not monsters; they were real people making human mistakes. A rigorous study of American history also reveals that we have not been angels. The American west was won because we ethnically cleansed it. We brutally put down an insurrection in the Philippines in 1902 in a way that the Waffen SS could admire. And I have no doubt that if the United States was actually facing a successful invasion by Japan that we would have put our Japanese internees to death from a position of panic just as we vaporized two civilian cities in Japan from a position of strength.

          Before the First World War the United States was still at the same level of development as it was during the war, but we would not even recognize the America of the Wilson administration, we who have become accustomed to a post-watergate White House. Wilson and FDR exercised executive power that Nixon would have envied but Nixon was sworn in by Earl Warren so he never had the chance, and the wake of watergate curbed the executive branch more than the Warren Court did. When progressives shrug that Obama became the first president to violate the War Powers Act, we seem to be reverting to a Wilsonian progressivism that is fundamentally illiberal. “If the [Reichstag] won’t act I will!”

          For anyone following the underlying intellectual history of the American left today, this turn of events should be no surprise. In the 1990s while the “New Democrats” were in power in the US, “New Labor” was in power in the UK, and in Germany Gerhard Schroeder was campaigning in 1998 calling his agenda “die neu mitte”, an anti-globalization movement was spawning and growing. It’s watershed moment was the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. A year later two leading intellectuals of that global movement penned a manifesto that has now become an influential classic: Empire by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt. This long, almost impenetrable text does many things, among them is to formulate a new post cold war Marxist vision by rehabilitating Carl Schmitt as a fresh new visionary who understood how to exert power within the confines of bourgeois democracy. That’s what I call coming full circle!

          Regarding drawing one’s point from the evidence, that is called inductive reasoning. In the early modern period there were philosopher’s touting an induction only epistemology, indeed John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding is one of them, but that is not how the scientific method works. We formulate hypothesis using both inductive and deductive reasoning, but then to test our hypothesis we must be deductive as we go back to the evidence trying to falsify it with the right experimental design. It’s not so much looking for evidence to support one’s point; it’s looking for evidence to falsify one’s point whereby the failure to find counterevidence allows one to confirm that hypothesis.

          In the study of history we cannot conduct repeatable experiments, but if there are enough instances, we have can test our generalization with multiple specific examples. The 20th Century provides us with lots of example of fascism from Franco’s Spain to Pinochet’s Chile.

          There are enough examples that we can confirm speciation. Fascist regimes behave in a distinctly different way from both liberal democracy and socialism. Like socialism, they reject liberalism, but unlike socialism fascist polities reject universal solidarity and instead use nationalism as a collectivizing tool. The telos of the fascist regime’s coercive power of the state does not seek equality as an end, but rather tries to arbitrate class conflict by demanding all classes sacrifice for national greatness. These regimes cannot last long without a conflict of some kind, afterwards they quickly mellow out into authoritarian regimes and eventually either liberal or social democracy – Chile being an example of the former and Argentina being an example of the latter. It is not enough to simply hold that fascist regimes are evil, because as it takes form they are alway extremely popular. Understanding fascism is thus not a game; it’s a serious area of social scientific inquiry.

          • Damascusdean

            Fascism, like communism, was a late 19th- early 20th century social invention that arose to deal with the challenges of modernism. You find commonalities among nations at any given time because they are all dealing with similar sets of forces, in this case the transformation of rural, agrarian, close knit, highly local societies to urban industrial ones. With that comes a loss of order and control, and a mixing of ethnic populations in ways they had not mixed earlier.

            Some people responded by adopting Fascist approaches, some of which morphed into virulent forms. Grabbing this or that parallel doesn’t tell you much unless you take it in with this wider context.

            Fortunately for us liberal democracy, another response to modernism, won out over both fascism and communism, so we have the luxury of writing these exchanges without worrying about some goon breaking down our front door. .

          • Damascusdean

            By the way Eric, there were fascist leagues in every northern European country, including Britain and Sweden especially. Until fascism showed how ugly it could be, it had a certain logic. My own dear old departed right wing dad used to say Hitler wasn’t all bad.

            Tot he extent fascism has hung on it is entirely with the racist right, not the left, which is what makes Goldberg’s analysis particularly obnoxious.

          • Let’s not confuse having fascist leagues with having fascist governments. Some of my best friends in this city are serious Communists. Geek that I am, watching a film about the Spanish Civil war sponsored by the ISO at PSU, and then going over to Hot Lips Pizza to discuss it with them is my idea of a good time, but I do not suffer under a Communist regime.

            It would be a mistake to identify all popular forms of domestic racism as vestiges of fascism. Racism as we know it today is qualitatively different from the eugenics of the Nazis. Eugenics was embraced by progressive elites as a patronistic policy tool of the state to improve the well being their their populations. It involved a nasty marriage of the theory of evolution and central planning. American conservatives embrace neither.

            We also cannot compare the anti-semitism of the Nazis to American forms of racism either. Racism in America scapegoats minorities for welfare dependency on the state and perhaps competition for jobs. German jews were not. Nazi anti-semitism was a populist rejection of elites. Not all German Jews were wealthy of course, but the racist stereotype at work was fundamentally the opposite of what we see in America against blacks and latinos. Like all Western eugenicists at the time, the Nazis thought they possessed scientific knowledge from phrenology and the like, demonstrating they were superior to the other world’s races, but these were people living outside Germany’s borders. Germany was a fairly homogenous society without anything like America’s racial tensions.

            To the extent American conservatives share this kind of thinking it’s not so much racism but rather a populist rejection of white urban culture and universities. I go to conservative events all the time and see the anti-intellectualism at work. It’s certainly a natural form of human prejudice, sort of a form of cultural class warfare, but it’s not racist. In Germany this same phenomenon was at work but both liberalism and socialism were seen as un-Germanic machinations of an unpatriotic jewish elite. I could see a similar form of anti-asian racism take form here. Once the racism is seen as being directed towards elites however, the left will join in.

            Racism is peripheral to fascism. It is what has survived in our cultural memory, but most of the details about fascism has been thrown into the memory hole. Indeed the racial element is primarily just a German phenomenon. The real enemy of fascism is liberalism and socialism. If you had actually read Goldberg’s book you would know he was primarily writing about the fertilization of Italian fascism, which did not have the same eugenic element. To the extent fascism has hung on it is more identifiable in Obamacare’s rejection of BOTH a free market in healthcare AND a single-payer system in favor of co opting the health sector of the economy to work toward the national good. Fascism seeks an economy that obeys orders.

            The re-emerging rhetoric of fascism can be seen in the last point made in Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address, where he crossed over from merely exploiting the nationalistic thumos that so socially privileges our veterans, to actually identifying the illiberal culture of the military as a model for our society when he made the transition back to domestic politics, telling Congress: “Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn a thing or two from the service of our troops.” Obama went on to say: “When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one nation.” A year a later the failure of Congress to help craft a more regimented economy prompted Obama to declare that if our legislative branch does not act then he will.

          • Damascusdean

            You are well traveled. Have you been to Aushwitz? I have. So I don’t invoke fascism or naziism on any occasion to remark about present American politics or politicians. I stay away from that because it only diminishes what the actual Nazis did.

            Trying to link Obama and fascism through the US military is just plan silly and trivializes your whole argument. Its beneath you.

          • Communism was not a late 19th century invention; it was an 18th century invention. Let’s not forget about the Jacobins and the revolutions of 1848.

            Fascism was not a 19th century invention either; it’s was a uniquely 20th century innovation, responding to radical socialism that came with uniquely 20th century techniques which were first pioneered by the Wilson administration and then spread to Italy by American intellectuals.

            There is a lot more entailed in fascism than war-loving conservatives enacting progressive reforms. Neither Teddy Roosevelt nor Otto von Bismarck were fascists. Their reforms could just as easily have led toward a social democratic outcome as did their equivalents in Sweden and Denmark (Karl Staaff in Sweden and Jens Christensen in Denmark). There are commonalities in the challenges Western Civilization was dealing with, however there are very clear and distinct differences between the means each different political culture embraced to meet those challenges.

            It would also be a mistake to assume fascism is limited to 19th century style urbanization and immigration. That was not even the case for all of Europe during the 20s to the 40s. We can test your hypothesis by deducing that homogenous societies do not have that trait and then let’s look to see if there are any homogenous societies that embraced fascism and indeed there are two obvious examples: Spain and Portugal. If Franco was organizing against a Basque scapegoat that would be different, but he was organizing against Catalonian socialists. The most prominent example of fascism today is the direction to which China’s reforms have taken during the Hu Jintao years. China is homogenous like Franco’s Spain with its ethnic minorities concentrated in distant frontiers.

            China is undergoing a classic 19th century style internal migration from a mostly rural population to rapid urbanization, but this too can be tested as a necessary condition for the development of fascism. Few of our classic examples of fascism were undergoing massive urbanization like the United States was and China is today. In the case of Italy, the first European pioneer of fascism, it’s major leap toward urbanization was in the early modern period giving us a post medieval renaissance of urban living. Italy’s 19th and 20th century rural migration was not to its already large and long established cities; it was to the United States’ urban areas.

            We are lucky that fascism did not take root here. Some would attribute that to an embedded liberalism. I am not so sanguine; there was an even deeper embedded liberalism in Austria before the Anschluss. It seems more a matter of luck with the random walk of history that our presidents were both disabled for health reasons at the very moment the wars came to an end, followed by successors who had trouble harnessing the tools of the imperial presidency to block the opposition. The Bush administration showed how fragile those institutional safeguards against fascism really are, even though fascism itself remained universally condemned, as a good proverb that has been apocryphally attributed to Sinclair Lewis points out: don’t expect future fascists to wear swastikas. “When fascism comes to the United States it will be wrapped in the American flag.”

            You are correct in pointing out that the similarities between the Wilson administration and Mussolini were rooted in the issues of another time. This does not absolve us of the need to be worried about the similarities between Bush and Obama.

Stay Tuned...

Stay up to date with the latest political news and commentary from Oregon Catalyst through daily email updates:

Prefer another subscription option? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, become a fan on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Twitter Facebook

No Thanks (close this box)