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.