Saturday, March 27, 2010

Who, me?

(via Daily dish) In an attack on David Frum following his departure from the American Enterprise Institute, Charles Murray writes:
AEI has a culture, the scholars are fiercely proud of that culture, and at its heart is total intellectual freedom.
Let's follow the implications of that. Any group of people have the right to come together and call themselves scholars, to title themselves an institute. But the American Enterprise Institute does more. It pays salaries. It offers a health insurance plan. To do that, it has to participate in the economic world. In short, its participants have to offer something the world wants to buy. Think tanks, like editorial pages, make their money by producing opinions. That constrains them to to produce the opinions and research donors will buy. The market has the final word, which means that whatever their institutional culture told them, the members of the American Enterprise Institute do not have, did not have, and logically could not have "total intellectual freedom".

Nobody has defended those strictures at a more fundamental level than Charles Murray; he has specifically argued that having to rely on a menial job, if necessary, to provide for dependents does the soul good. If we apply Charles Murray's rules to American Enterprise Scholars, we should reject on principle the idea of anyone having a sanctuary in which they can produce whatever they please and have a guarantee the market will accept it. If you write, you have two choices: write things some market will accept, or else write for nothing. The management AEI appears to have given David Frum exactly that choice. I would expect Charles Murray to say, approvingly, that so they should.

Instead, he gets very angry indeed with the idea that anyone in the management of the American Enterprise Institute responded to the choices of the people who pay the bills. He does not call this making the kind of compromise that gives meaning to life, embracing hard realities in order to live life well. Instead, he refers to Frum's allegations as an attack on "the core of the Institute’s integrity". As I read his arguments, it appears the idea that economic rules which he passionately defends apply to people like himself makes Charles Murray incandescent with rage. He has disavowed his former friendship with David Frum on that basis. But what does that say about conservative principles, and the devotion to the free market avowed by conservative scholars?

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