A profile of Glenn Loury

July 12, 2020 • 1:30 pm

Glenn Loury, a professor of economics at Brown University, is well known to us as an African-American intellectual who, though a centrist with liberal tendencies (he might contest that position), dares to question the received wisdom of critical race theory. In this he’s sympatico with Columbia’s John McWhorter, and the pair often do discussions on bloggingheads.tv’s “The Glenn Show.

Two days ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a profile of Loury, and though it’s probably paywalled for most of you (click screenshot to see), judicious inquiry will yield a copy. It details his personal/political history from a young liberal on Chicago’s South Side to a college-age conservative who voted for Reagan, and then to his embrace of Christianity and return toward the Left by reading people like Murray, Herrsntein and Dinesh D’Souza.  I didn’t know Loury was religious (and I’m not that keen on it, since it implies a willingness to embrace delusions), but on issues other than Jesus he seems pretty hardheaded, and brave enough to challenge the “cancel culture.”

If you want to know a guy who’s liable to show up here fairly often in the future, have a read. I’ll give just two quotes:

Next spring Glenn Loury will teach a new course on freedom of expression to students at Brown University, where he’s a professor of economics. “We’ll read Plato, Socrates, Milton, John Stuart Mill, George Orwell and Allan Bloom, ” he says, stressing that Bloom’s best-known work, “The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students,” is as relevant as it was when published in 1987.

Mr. Loury is thinking about adding “the Paxson letter” to his syllabus, so that his students might critique it. That June 1 missive to “the Brown Community” from Christina H. Paxson, Brown’s president, asserted that “oppression, as well as prejudice, outright bigotry and hate, directly and personally affect the lives of millions of people in this nation every minute and every hour.” It committed the university to “programming, courses, and research opportunities” that promote “equity and justice.”

Mr. Loury scorns the letter as Ms. Paxson’s “company policy” and “the Black Lives Matter view of the world reflected from the Brown University college president’s office.” On June 5, he published a rebuttal in City Journal. [JAC: see my post on this letter here.] Ms. Paxson’s letter was signed “by everybody,” from deans to the general counsel and even the investment manager for Brown’s $4.2 billion endowment, Mr. Loury tells me by Zoom from his home in Providence, R.I. “That made it an official policy,” he says. “I don’t think universities should have official policies about contentious political issues.”

If they do—“if we foreclose debate over contentious issues by declaring that there’s only one way for a decent person at this university to think about them”—“how can we fulfill our mission of teaching our students to think critically?” Scholarly inquiry ought to consist of an exploration of the evidence, the “moral commitments,” the political issues and the historical context. The Paxson letter makes these “hard questions” more perilous to ask.

“I’m 71,” he says. “I have tenure. I have a chair. That doesn’t mean that the McCarthyism can’t get me, but I’m as secure as anybody is ever going to be.” What if he were 32, an untenured assistant professor of English or history? “Dare I even mumble a contrary word once this kind of thing has been put out into the air? Universities shouldn’t be handing down a party-line document.” Few have dared dissent: Of his “500 professorial colleagues here at Brown,” he says, only three responded to his rebuttal by saying “good job.”

Now you just know that more than three of his colleagues thought Loury did a good job. Their failure to support him is just more evidence of the cancel culture whose existence is denied by the Woke.

Two more quotes and then I must feed my waterfowl. First, why he refused to sign the Harper’s letter:

Mr. Loury says he “politely declined” an invitation to sign “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” published by Harper’s on Tuesday. Endorsed by some 150 liberal academics and writers, it denounces President Trump as “a real threat to democracy” before criticizing leftist repression.

“I declined for two reasons,” Mr. Loury says. “First, I’m not ‘on the left’ and felt no need to signal solidarity with the left before criticizing cancel culture. And second, I don’t view Trump as the greatest threat to democracy in this country.” The truth, he adds, is “quite the opposite. It has been the refusal of the left to accept the democratic outcome of 2016 which precipitated the intolerance about which [the signatories] were complaining. So I did not sign.”

Well, one can quarrel with the second claim, and indeed I do.  Most of us, I think, have accepted that Trump was elected President (though not by the popular vote) in 2016. But many of us, me included, also think that Trump and his administration pose the greatest threat to democracy in the U.S. right now. If not, what does? (Loury doesn’t say.)

Finally, he outlines his differences from most black activists and intellectuals:

Parsing the politics of black America, he says that the prevailing orthodoxy requires him to support the payment of reparations to descendants of slaves, to assert that “voter suppression” today is comparable to Jim Crow, that the overrepresentation of blacks in prisons is “ipso facto an expression of white supremacy and structural racism,” and that preferential treatment is “entirely appropriate, and indeed imperative, as a matter of racial justice.”

I’m not sure what he means by “the prevailing orthodoxy requires him to support. . . “, because he’s not the kind of guy who supports things because they’re orthodox. And he undercuts that in the next paragraph:

A black person who takes issue with these premises is largely ostracized. Here, an impassioned Mr. Loury delivers a small speech without pausing for breath: “If you don’t think that systemic racism accounts for the high rate of outside-marriage births amongst African-American women, if you don’t think the school-to-prison pipeline cultivates the incarceration of black youngsters, if you have doubts about affirmative action, if you think self-reliance is important, if you think the coherence of the family is an elemental aspect of any social group’s being able to function adequately in the world, if you’re religious, and if you think that blacks’ obeisance to the Democratic Party is unhealthy for their long-term political interests—you’ll be dismissed as being on the right. And that’s where I find myself.”

Well, the interview also says this:

Mr. Loury is a hard man to pigeonhole. He belongs to no party and says he isn’t “partisan in the electoral process,” so “ ‘on the right’ doesn’t quite suit me.” Yet on the issues that he cares about most—race, inequality and social justice in America—he is, he says, “right of center for sure, and considerably right of the center of opinion amongst African-Americans.”

In other words, he’s a maverick. I can’t remember who (someone in Congress?) dismissed people like Loury because they weren’t talking like an African-American is supposed to, but hand the man this: he says what he thinks.




48 thoughts on “A profile of Glenn Loury

  1. This is false:

    “It has been the refusal of the left to accept the democratic outcome of 2016 which precipitated the intolerance about which [the signatories] were complaining.”

    1. Yes, that argument isn’t compelling at all. The way Trump plays into it, IMHO, is that the Cancel Culture hurts the Left’s standing in its battle against what Trump stands for. Cancel Culture is like being forced to wear a false nose and glasses during our debate with the xenophobic, tribalist Trumpians.

    2. Good point!

      That statement is not only false, but it borders on the delusional. First, one can question whether the outcome was democratic when because of the Electoral College the person who received the most votes lost. Second, the left accept Trump’s victory in the sense that he won according to the constitutional procedures. Of course, the left didn’t like the result and with the possible exception of a few extremists are working to defeat him in 2020. The connection that I see between the election and the cancel culture is that when the president considers white supremacists an ally (if he is not actually one himself), he accelerated a tendency to authoritarianism (which existed pre-Trump) among those who seem to have given up on democracy due to Trump’s authoritarianism. In other words, authoritarianism bred authoritarianism. There is a certain irony here. Finally, he doesn’t think Trump is the greatest threat to democracy. Presumably, he thinks the cancel culture is. I think he lives in an alternate reality or doesn’t leave the college campus very much

      1. I warmly agree with Historian, as I mostly do. I find myself not usually very fond of ‘mavericks’, since all too often they seem principally concerned with with their ‘maverickicity’, to coin a word, like Dominic Cummings & Boris Johnson. Scratch a maverick & you too often find a narcissist and a cynic. Being a ‘maverick’ is their selling point. It sounds romantic and daring and wows certain audiences.

        Talking of the rise of ‘authoritarianism’, there is a very good article by Nick Cohen in today’s Guardian about Anne Applebaum & her new book ‘Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends’; I recommend reading the article, and I have already ordered the book on the strength of what Cohen and Applebaum say (Cohen talked with Applebaum on the telephone before writing the article). There have been one or two partings with friends on my part in connexion with Brexit and voting for the party responsible of the Windrush betrayal – which provides an all too good example of the kind of systemic racism that such as Loury seem to pretend does not exist or has no effect on anything.

      2. Trump was elected according to the rules of the game. Complaints about his legitimacy based on his relatively low actual number of votes are part of the problem. It’s like being up in arms for four years that your favourite NFL team really won the Super Bowl because, despite scoring fewer points, they had more first downs. If the situation had been reversed, would we have seen the same arguments with the same frequency?

        I think Loury’s point is that Trump’s election was portrayed as not only illegitimate but also the worst thing ever. This then allowed the leaders of the mob to ‘justify’ the adoption of extreme measures.

        As one community I’m aware of pointed out (as they were stripping someone of their livelihood, hobby and house for the crime of suggesting witch hunts weren’t a good idea) you can’t question their horrific actions because “Trump is putting children in cages”.

        Trump’s authoritarianism has certainly fanned the flames since, but I don’t think he started the fire. He’s just been a convenient effigy.

        1. How many, and how powerful, were, or are, complaints about Trump’s ‘legitimacy’? How frequent are the ‘arguments’ you speak of? So far as I can see (I am not American and do not live there, but have a number of American acquaintances here in Japan), most Americans accepted that Trump was legitimately elected because that is how the electoral system works in the USA, even if those who did not vote for him disliked the results of the election, as people whose candidate or party is not voted into power naturally do everywhere.

          And who are the leaders of this ‘mob’ of yours? Adam Schiff? Robert Mueller? Do you think that Trump’s separating children from their parents (in many cases neglecting to record whose children belonged to who)and putting them into cages is not horrific? I am sorry, but all you are doing is indulging in the kind of noisy, aggrieved and vague hand-waving that is all too common on the right.

          I wonder if you had any problem with the efforts of the Republican Party under Mitch McConnell to make Obama a ‘one-term’ president and to prevent any initiatives that he took? Or with Trump’s attempts to destroy, out of infantile pique, all that his predecessor did manage to achieve? And I wonder if you have any problems with Republican gerrymandering and other efforts to prevent people from voting. America is supposed to be a democracy, you know.

          So far as I can see, it is not the supposed illegitimacy of Trump’s presidency that is exercising responsible American citizens, but the man’s sheer incompetence, overweening-ness, and dishonesty, which is aided and abetted by such as Barr & McConnell.

          1. I might add that I have small time for the self-indulgent character & political naivetie of ‘wokeness’, but it does not seem to be very much different from the aggrieved self-indulgence of the right – and, for all the fuss that is made, it is at the moment the latter that is more dangerous.

          2. In terms of ‘how many and how powerful’: As a European I can only comment on what I saw of American news media (both written and broadcast), numerous articles in the UK press, a general debate on the validity of the Electoral College system that took place across both the UK and US political media I subscribe to and, aside from the usual social media echo chambers, a reference in this very thread nearly four years later.

            The leaders of the ‘mob’ I referred to are those people who are quite happy to point at someone who has committed no legal crime and seek the power of popular opprobrium to see them punished extra-judicially. The pages of this blog are replete with examples, are they not?

            The rest of your post seems to be a misguided attack on me rather than upon the points I was making (Yes, I have problems with all sides of the political spectrum; political beliefs do not automatically protect or condemn your specific actions in my eyes, mea culpa). And you seem to commit the same strawman fallacy that the bullies I referenced did. Just because horrible things are happening somewhere in the world doesn’t justify inflicting horrible things on people who are unrelated to the events.

            I’m uncertain what I did to earn your attempt at character assassination. But, as someone new to the communmity, if you would point it out I’ll likely happily apologise (or, at least, try and provide an explanation).

            1. “As a European I can only comment on what I saw of American news media”

              And, it would seem, on a Gallup poll from Nov 2016 I just found that matches your position that ‘most Americans’ see Trump as a legitimate President, but that 23% of Clinton voters (and c.15% / 30 million over all) did not. Those numbers will obviously have changed since then though.

              1. Do you have a link to that poll? This sounds like the kind of question that would give misleading polling results. There are so many ways to interpret legitimacy. There’s a lot of (justifiable) anger against Trump. You could ask virtually any question about Trump and get people respond in the negative. “Is Trump’s hair on fire due to all his lying?” Absolutely, yes! A better question would be “Do you think that Congress should investigate the 2016 election results?” I suspect that would poll much, much lower.

        2. Virtually all of the actions against Trump (impeachment, etc.) have not been claims that his election was illegitimate or even the result of some sort of sour grapes over the election. Trump committed actual crimes and was impeached over them.

          Sure, people are pissed off that he was elected but surely they have the right to do that. As to Loury’s claim that this anger fuels the cancel culture is completely unfounded, IMHO. It is hard to prove a negative though.

          1. I don’t think Loury was talking about Trump’s crimes or his incompetence post-taking office as he specifically references 2016 (and, as I was seeking to present a possible scenario behind Loury’s thinking, nor was I).

            What I was trying (and clearly failing) to suggest was that the looming reality of President Trump provided an excuse to shed the inconvenient impediment of empathetic discourse.

            I think it’s broadly the same point Historian made “In other words, authoritarianism bred authoritarianism.” but I believe Loury would word it as “In other words, the spectre of Trump’s authoritarianism bred authoritarianism.”

            As a thought experiment, does Cancel Culture look any different today if Clinton had won? And, if Trump is vanquished in a few months time, does Cancel Culture go away (and not just in America)?

            1. I’m sure it’s the case that Trump’s election has made everybody more angry and more people to become authoritarian or authoritarian-adjacent, but Cancel Culture has a much longer history than that. To consider Trump’s election as even a major contributor to it is to mistake weather for climate change.

              1. Thank you, Mr Lowe, for your clarifications, and I am sorry if I misrepresented you. As Paul Topping has said, ‘cancel culture’ goes back well beyond the arrival of Trump, but his arrival on the scene appears to have exacerbated ill behaviour on all sides – though the right-wing machine was up and noisily running for a long while before ‘cancel culture’, whose abuses I dislike as much as anyone here, became the topic of the day, particularly on the right. Also, the dangers of ‘identity politics’ were pointed out by Judith Shklar back in the early 1990s.

                A paragraph from Nick Cohen’s splendid piece in the Guardian on Anne Applebaum:

                ‘You can read thousands of discussions of the “root causes” of what we insipidly call “populism”. The academic studies aren’t all wrong, although too many are suspiciously partial. The left says austerity and inequality caused Brexit and Trump, proving they had always been right to oppose austerity and inequality. The right blames woke politics and excessive immigration, and again you can hear the self-satisfaction in the explanation.

                ‘Applebaum offers an overdue corrective. She knows the personal behind the political. She understands that the nationalist counter-revolution did not just happen. Politicians hungry for office, plutocrats wanting the world to obey their commands, second-rate journalists sniffing a chance of recognition after years of obscurity, and Twitter mob-raisers and fake news fraudsters, who find a sadist’s pleasure in humiliating their opponents, propelled causes that would satisfy them.’

                Note the last sentence of the first paragraph.

              2. Thank you, Mr Harris. I appreciate it.

                I think both yourself and Mr Topping present a compelling case, consider me converted! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insight, I’m very much here to learn.

      3. Delusional was precisely the word that came to mind when I read that passage from Loury. This makes me much more critical of anything he says.

        1. I would grant him a little more leeway and say Loury is “out of touch” or just “wrong” but I agree that this statement is so far off that it makes me wonder about anything else he might say.

          1. Don’t get me wrong, I’m nowhere near to dismissing whatever he says. I’ve heard / read more than enough from him that I agreed with or that was at least worth considering. I just take this as a wake up call to make sure and pay attention when reading / listening to him.

  2. I just watched a conversation between Loury and John McWhorter on Glenn’s show. I admire them both. While Glenn seems to be a conservative, there isn’t much I disagree with in his comments about society, race and the American experiment. I wish more people would engage in dialogue. We move forward as a nation when we exchange ideas. The Cultural Revolution feel of today is dangerous.

    1. What is great about Loury & McWhorter is that they have actual debates where they bounce ideas off each other and adapt their arguments/opinions in real time.

      1. Absolutely. They disagree on a lot, but have tremendous respect for each other. You can see a point of view received, considered and you know it will get further thought in private. This is the way it’s supposed to work.

  3. Dr. Coyne writes: “I can’t remember who (someone in Congress?) dismissed people like Loury because they weren’t talking like an African-American is supposed to, but hand the man this: he says what he thinks.”

    I remember who has most notoriously said that (it’s really woke orthodoxy, especially because I am gay and Hispanic and it is the essence of essentialism and intratextuality: Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

    Here is what she said:

    “I don’t want to bring a chair to an old table. This is the time to shake the table. This is the time to redefine that table. Because if you’re going to come to this table, all of you who have aspirations of running for office. If you’re not prepared to come to that table and represent that voice, don’t come, because we don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice. If you’re worried about being marginalized and stereotyped, please don’t even show up because we need you to represent that voice.”


  4. I disagree with Loury on economics but I tend to agree with him on most other things. And though I am at odds with religion and Christianity I fully understand the mass appeal of Jesus and his pinko philosophy. So while I fault Christians I do not fault fans of the philosophy of a man named Jesus (who, like Socrates, may or may not have existed).

    Either way, Glenn Loury is a welcome breath of fresh air in my books.

    1. … Jesus and his pinko philosophy.

      Buddy of mine the other day adverted to Him as “that Galilean redistributionist.” 🙂

      … Jesus (who, like Socrates, may or may not have existed).

      Good reason not to worship Socrates either, but to take from what he’s quoted as espousing according to the Platonic dialogues such worth as, by its terms, it may merit.

  5. BTW, Andrew Sullivan also wrote about Pressley’s statement vis a vis the gay left’s hatred of Pete Buttigieg:

    “I thought of Peck’s argument when confronted this week by a speech by Democratic congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, one of the four women who are increasingly defining the Democratic party for the 2020 cycle. Here’s what she said to Netroots Nation: “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice.”

    That’s why the hard left hates Buttigieg. Because he is a gay man who does not have what they believe is the correct “queer voice.” Because he represents an individual success story….”


  6. “Many of us, me included, also think that Trump and his administration pose the greatest threat to democracy in the U.S. right now. If not, what does? (Loury doesn’t say.)”

    Wouldn’t Loury say, perhaps, that cancel culture does?

    1. You didn’t read the post, did you? Loury didn’t want to sign the cancel culture letter.
      As for your own website, the first thing I saw on it was this:

      I am a young earth creationist. Holy Scripture compels me to believe that God created the visible universe in six days roughly six thousand years ago, and that is what I publicly teach the dear people entrusted to my spiritual care. I wish to share in the receiving end of the ridicule directed by so many—including professing Christians—at Ken Ham, particularly in the wake of his debate on Tuesday night with Bill Nye the Science Guy (whose show on PBS was one of my childhood favorites).

      Sorry, but you’re at the wrong website. Holy Scripture must also compel you to believe any number of crazy things, but young-earth creationism is the craziest. Did you read my book? (I know that question won’t reach you, as the Holy Scripture has stoppered your ears–and your reason.

      1. I think he’s on the right web site. He’s a young Earth creationist. We won’t be able to persuade the YECs they are wrong simply by telling them not to come to web sites where they might get an education as to why they are wrong.

  7. “I didn’t know Loury was religious”

    He was, he is not anymore.
    It is a big part of African American culture and it was integral to his marriage.

  8. “I’m not sure what he means by “the prevailing orthodoxy requires him to support. . . “, because he’s not the kind of guy who supports things because they’re orthodox.”

    He doesn’t support any of the things mentioned in that passage. He just said that it’s what he feels pressured to do.

    Loury is also not religious anymore. He has described his christianity as a temporary delusion caused by a life crisis. Here is one instance:


  9. I’m not too satisfied with Loury’s reasons for not signing the letter. “First, I’m not ‘on the left’ and felt no need to signal solidarity with the left…” I don’t think anyone else signing the letter felt that need much either. Some were kind of not on the left anyway. His position seems to accept the legitimacy of identity politics. He identifies as not-on-th-left. The letter was about avoiding this trap. Is Laury overly tied to his identity that he couldn’t set it aside in order to affirm the high principle at stake? Puzzling.

    The other reason makes even less sense – “And second, I don’t view Trump as the greatest threat to democracy in this country.” But, that’s not at all the key point of the letter. Couldn’t he agree, at least, that it is arguable that tRump is the worst threat? Or maybe he’s the second worse threat. Certainly the left are not responsible for the failed response to the pandemic and bringing Vladimir Putin into the 2016 election. Again it looks like he’s struggling to show he’s not part of anything that doesn’t fit 100% with his own pet concerns.

    I find his views, at least here, tedious.

  10. Loury here is a hero. His letter reply to Brown’s president is fantastic. He pulls no punches at all. He could only get away with saying this as a black professor with tenure. Unfortunately, it sounds like his pushback did not gain much traction. It’s too bad he didn’t sign The Letter and his reason for doing so seems lame.

    I fear that as we get to know him, we may have some differences of opinion. The religiosity and other things you hint at here sound like trouble. Still, nothing wrong with debate.

    1. “Loury here is a hero. His letter reply to Brown’s president is fantastic.”

      Paul and I agree 🙂

      “The religiosity and other things you hint at here sound like trouble.”
      He used to be religious.
      Anyway, unless we want to live in echo chambers we should listen to the opinions of the religious as well. (even Trump and Antifa supporters!)

  11. Loury’s a cantankerous contrarian who often espouses provocative positions just to spark debate — or, sometimes, seemingly just for the ornery old hell of it (and good on him for doing so). I frequently disagree with what the son of gun says, but always find him a lively listen or read.

  12. RE: “But many of us, me included, also think that Trump and his administration pose the greatest threat to democracy in the U.S. right now. If not, what does? (Loury doesn’t say.)”

    You don’t say either (here at least; possibly posted elsewhere?). What has Trump done that would make a reasonable person think he is threatening democracy? I’d assume constitutionality issues, breaking the law?

  13. Professor Loury’s statement about the Brown
    University catechism was absolutely right. If just a few profs would act with half as much backbone, the air in Academia’s home-made East Germany would clear significantly.

    I was an undergraduate in the mid-to-late 1950s, the legendary “McCarthyism” period. In
    fact, government spooks (I don’t remember if they were FBI or a different agency) began making inquiries about me back then. Let me
    report that the atmosphere of intimidation, conformism, and self-censorship at that time
    was markedly less severe than now, although the pressure ostensibly came from government then, whereas now it is seemingly internal. I don’t fully understand the reasons for the difference in atmospheres, but it is a puzzle worth thinking about.

    1. “Academia’s home-made East Germany”

      “I was an undergraduate in the mid-to-late 1950s, the legendary “McCarthyism” period.”

      Interesting, how left-wing were your fellow students at that time?

      1. Not very, most were apolitical. I was
        investigated (which had no consequences I know of) after organizing a little symposium on the American Left. We had speakers from the CP, the SWP, and the SP. The SP speaker was the elderly but still mesmerizing Norman Thomas.

  14. I’ve watched nearly every debate and interview of Christopher Hitchens and I came across a debate (from 2001) on reparations for slavery with Hitchens on one side (pro-reparations) and Glenn Loury on the other and it’s the only time I’ve ever seen Hitchens clearly shown to be in the wrong on an issue (imo).
    I recommend skipping past the other speakers and just listening to Hitchens’ and Loury’s contributions. Loury goes first at 19:45 into the video up to 29:00 then Hitchens from 44:00 to 54:45. Finally Loury again from 1:19:40 to 1:28:40.

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