Posted by: captainfalcon | May 25, 2010

Cornered

Though old, this post – Charles Murray defending AEI’s decision to fire David Frum – is still worth a click. It is a masterpiece of doublethink.

Frum says that AEI had to fire him because to do otherwise would have been to risk reputational harm among those (presumably press, movement conservatives and donors) who butter its bread. Murray has two replies.

(1) A non sequitur – “The idea that AEI donors sit down to talk with AEI’s president about who should and shouldn’t be on the staff, or what the staff should write, is fantasy” – which does nothing but disparage AEI’s competence (as if the executives need their donors to tell them about the reputation – among the donors and beyond them – of their various staffers).

(2) A self-refutation. Murray says that “AEI has a culture, the scholars are fiercely proud of that culture, and at its heart is total intellectual freedom.” How does he know this? Because he’s “pushed it to the limit.” It is not clear what “pushing total intellectual freedom to the limit” even means. But assuming we could work that out, what tested the limits? Was it “In Pursuit,” which draws “upon advances in psychology and sociology” to develop “a strong argument for a return to Jeffersonian ideals of community, local government and individualism.” Or Maybe it was “Thank God America Isn’t Like Europe – Yet.” Presumably The Bell Curve, which AEI’s President vigorously defended in print, isn’t the culprit. If Murray patrols the perimeter of AEI’s intellectual freedom, then freedom, there, is slavery.

But all this goes without saying. AEI has as its stated function furnishing “policymakers with ideas to meet the pressing challenges of today based on the resilient principles of private liberty, individual opportunity, and free enterprise.” It is not possible for an organization simultaneously to allow its members total intellectual freedom and consistently tout one political point of view. (And it is mind boggling that some think tanks can get away with pretending this glaring contradiction doesn’t obtain.) Or rather, it can do so only if it ensures that all members already share that point of view. Where did David Frum go, again?

Murray then speculates that Frum was fired (or, more specifically, offered a position sans salary) because:

[F]or the last few years, [he] has been invisible as a member of the institute. Being a scholar at a think tank (or any institution) is not just a matter of acknowledging your affiliation in your books and op-eds. It’s also a matter of blogging at the institute’s blog, not just your own blog (David had a grand total of 3 posts on AEI’s blog in the year since it began), reviewing colleagues’ drafts, reacting to their ideas, contributing chapters to their books, organizing scholarly events, participating on the institute’s panels, attending the institute’s conferences, helping out with fundraising, serving on in-house committees, giving in-house seminars, and mentoring junior staff

Performing these services is predicated on being welcome to perform them (which, if Frum was not, further calls into question whether total intellectual freedom is a hallmark of AEI’s culture). Not to mention the only piece of evidence Murray musters is the “only three blog posts” factoid.

But that pales in comparison to the next sentence: “Full disclosure: I’m on the left-hand side of that bell curve (I make the trek from Burkittsville so seldom that I don’t even have an office at AEI).” What is more likely: that Murray’s on the left-hand side of the bell curve, while “David was at the left-hand tail” (not having an office at AEI sounds pretty tail-like to me, and Murray doesn’t even have the excuses – working for an Administration and a Presidential campaign – available to Frum), or Frum’s firing has something to do with his being anathema to movement conservatives?

What is more likely: Murray is lying, or Murray is deluded?

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