Category Archives: Bruce S. Thornton

The Buckley Program Stands Up for Free Speech

by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

Photo vai FrontPage Magazine

Photo vai FrontPage Magazine

The William F. Buckley Program at Yale University lately showed bravery unusual for an academic institution. It has refused to be bullied by the Muslim Students Association and its demand that the Buckley Program rescind an invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali to speak on campus September 15. Hirsi Ali is the vocal Somalian critic of Islamic doctrine whose life has been endangered for condemning the theologically sanctioned oppression of women in Islamic culture. Unlike Brandeis University, which recently rescinded an honorary degree to be given to Hirsi Ali after complaints from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Buckley Program rejected both the MSA’s initial demand, and a follow up one that Hirsi Ali share the stage with one of her critics.

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When Activism Kills

by Bruce S. Thornton // Defining Ideas

Image credit: Light Brigading

Image credit: Light Brigading

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For four decades genetically modified organisms (GMO) have been vilified and caricatured as “Frankenfoods,” the abominations of mad scientists meddling with nature and putting the human race at risk. Currently, over sixty bills have been introduced in over twenty states that will require food labels indicating if the product contains GMO. Globally, over sixty countries restrict or ban GMO outright, including eight E.U. nations and countries in Africa suffering from famine and malnutrition that could be alleviated by genetically modified crops.

Critics accuse GMO of being unhealthy, increasing chemical pollution, threatening other species, causing dangerous side effects, and harming the environment. But as plant molecular biologist Robert Goldberg of UCLA points out, “In spite of hundreds of millions of genetic experiments involving every type of organism on earth, and people eating billions of meals without a problem, we’ve gone back to being ignorant.”

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‘To Hell With the Constitution!’

by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine 

Photo via www.newrepublic.com

Photo via www.newrepublic.com

In 1902 Theodore Roosevelt intervened in a strike by Pennsylvania coal miners, exceeding his Constitutional authority as president. When this was pointed out to him by Republican House whip James E. Watson, Roosevelt allegedly yelled, “To hell with the Constitution when the people want coal!”

This outburst reflected the novel Progressive view of the Chief Executive. Instead of the Constitution’s limited powers focused on specific needs, such as national defense, beyond the capacity of the individual states or local governments to address, the President needed more expansive authority in order to serve the “people.” Over 100 years later, Barack Obama has governed on the same assumption, one that undermines the Constitution’s structure of balanced powers and limited government, and puts at risk our political freedom and autonomy.

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Obama’s Foreign Policy of Empty Words

“When force threatens, talk is no good.” 

by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

That line from John Ford’s classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance contains wisdom everyone from peasant to king knew before our modern age and its smug illusions. Go back 2,400 years, and you can hear it from the Athenian orator Demosthenes as he chastises his fellow citizens for responding to Macedonian aggression by “forever debating the question and never making any progress” and issuing “empty decrees.” “All words, apart from action,” Demosthenes warned, “seem vain and idle, especially from Athenian lips: for the greater our reputation for a ready tongue, the greater the distrust it inspires in all men.” We’ve had several years now of watching Obama and his foreign policy team prove this eternal truth as they have feebly and fecklessly responded to crisis after crisis in Ukraine, Syria, and a dozen other venues.

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Nothing to Do with Islam, Part 2

by Bruce Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

To read Part I, click here.

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Photo via FrontPage Magazine

In his comments on the jihad being waged by the Islamic State in northern Iraq (ISIL), President Obama recycled yet again the shopworn false knowledge about Islam that continues to compromise our response to Muslim violence: “So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day.”

Over at the New York Post, a columnist rightly took the president to task by saying, “You can’t divorce the Islamic State from religion.” Unfortunately, the column is full of numerous misstatements that perpetuate the illusion that there is some peaceful, tolerant version of Islam that has been distorted and twisted by “extremists” or “fundamentalists.”

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Nothing to Do With Islam

by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

The war against jihadism has been chronically misunderstood because of our failure to acknowledge the religious motives of Muslim jihadists. This failure began in 1979 with the Iranian revolution. Trapped in our Western secularist paradigms, we interpreted the uprising against the Shah as an anti-colonial revolt against a “brutal” autocrat propped up by the West for its own exploitative economic and geostrategic purposes. The aim of the revolution, the argument went, was to create a government more sympathetic to national sovereignty and Western pluralistic government. However, it soon became clear with the political triumph of the Ayatollah Khomeini that the revolution was in the main a religious one, inspired in part by anger at the Shah’s secularization, modernization, and liberalization policies. As Khomeini said in 1962, the Shah’s regime was “fundamentally opposed to Islam itself and the existence of a religious class.”

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SMALL LATIN, AND LESS GREEK

Thornton reviews the book Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations, by Mary Beard. New York: Liverwright, 2013, 320 pp., $28.95 hardbound. 

by Bruce S. Thornton // NAS 

This piece originally appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Academic Questions (Volume 27, Number 3).

Photo via wikicommons

Photo via wikicommons

Once the heart of liberal education, the study of Greek and Latin languages and literatures has unfortunately been reduced to a prestige discipline found mainly in elite universities rich enough to afford the luxury of a classics program. The once universal high school experience of memorizing Latin declensions and reading some Caesar is nearly extinct compared to sixty years ago. These days most people get their knowledge of antiquity from lurid cable television series like Spartacus, or historically dubious movies like Gladiator and the more recent Pompeii. The foundational ideas, ideals, literature, art, and philosophy of the West are increasingly becoming historical curiosities that like Egyptian mummies or Viking long ships are artifacts, detached from the society and the minds of citizens who continue to live off a cultural capital the nature and origins of which they know nothing.

Those expecting an argument in favor of reviving the study of the classics from Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations, Mary Beard’s new collection of book reviews, will find misleading the dust jacket claim that the book shows why the classical tradition “still matters.” In this collection, Beard, a professor of classics at Cambridge University and a regular on British television, is more concerned with the intramural professional disagreements and conflicting interpretations of ancient literature and culture unlikely to be of interest to a larger audience. Very few, if any, of these essays cover the ancient “monuments of unageing intellect,” or the classical “things of beauty” that have delighted and instructed the West for 2700 years. Thus these reviews will “matter” mostly to the few hundred thousand academics and other cultural elites who subscribe to the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement—the publications in which these reviews first appeared, and which have little influence on those outside the parochial Lilliputs of academe.

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Democracies Like Military Cuts

by Bruce S. Thorton // FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

President Obama has been rightly chastised for his proposed cuts to our military budget. Critics have gone after his Quadrennial Defense Review and its plan to shrink the armed forces, not to mention the clumsy optics of issuing pink slips to thousands of officers still serving in Afghanistan. More troublesome is the reduction of the military’s global mission from its traditional purpose of being able to fight and defeat two enemies at once, to only defeating one while keeping a second from “achieving its objectives,” a conveniently fuzzy criterion.

Worse yet, these cuts are coming just as China and Russia are flexing their geopolitical muscles, the Middle East is exploding in sectarian violence, and Iran is creeping ever closer to nuclear weaponry. As a bipartisan panel created by the Pentagon and Congress concludes of these latest reductions, “Not only have they caused significant investment shortfalls in U.S. military readiness and both present and future capabilities, they have prompted our current and potential allies and adversaries to question our commitment and resolve. Unless reversed, these shortfalls will lead to a high-risk force in the near future. That in turn will lead to an America that is not only less secure but also far less prosperous. In this sense, these cuts are ultimately self-defeating.”

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The Failure of the E.U.

by Bruce S. Thornton // Defining Ideas

Image credit: Barbara Kelley

Image credit: Barbara Kelley

The European Union has long excited American progressives, who want the United States to model itself after the European body. As each year passes, it has become difficult to understand this admiration. These days the E.U. acts more and more like a bloated bureaucracy staffed with elites armed with intrusive regulatory power and insulated from citizen accountability. The success of Euroskeptic parties in this spring’s European Parliament elections casts doubt on the whole E.U. project.

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Obama and the U.N.’s Alternate Universe

by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

Barack Obama has managed to push American foreign policy into an alternate universe in which everything the human race has learned over the past 2500 years about human nature, aggression, and its deterrence has been stood on its head. He is not solely to blame for this. For 150 years the West had indulged the illusion that human nature is progressing away from our violent past toward a world of reason in which conflict can be resolved and negotiated away without force or the credible threat of force. But Obama and his foreign policy team have completely detached this idea, serially mugged by the violent reality of the last century, from any recognition of morality or even fact. The result is the disastrous decline in American global authority and influence.

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