GOP Sen. Josh Hawley grossly mischaracterized the views of 4 academics in his 'cosmopolitan elites' speech
He cherry-picked old quotes to say they were contemptuous of America. It's not true.
The GOP's wunderkind doesn't appear to do his homework.
In his recent keynote address at the National Conservatism Conference, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) spoke about how a "cosmopolitan elite" has sold out the American middle and working classes to multinational corporations. They have "encouraged multinational corporations to move jobs and assets overseas to chase the cheapest wages and pay the lowest taxes." These business then invest their profits "not in American workers, not in American development, but in financial instruments that benefit the cosmopolitan elite."
As Alexander Zaitchik writes at The New Republic, the speech was at bottom an attempt to paint an intellectual veneer on the politics of President Trump. In the days since, Hawley has been both hailed and panned as the future of the Republican Party.
Hawley characterized four American academics — Richard Sennett, Martha Nussbaum, Leo Marx, and Lloyd Rudolph — as leaders of this elite, charging that they "distrust patriotism" and "look down on the common affections that once bound this nation together: things like place and national feeling and religious faith."
But closer examination reveals the quotes Hawley attributed to the academics are either misleading or simply deceptive. (The senator's office did not respond to an emailed request for comment about this story.)
Hawley characterizes a 1994 article from University of Chicago law professor Martha Nussbaum like this: She "wrote that it is wrong and morally dangerous to teach students that they are 'above all, citizens of the United States.' Instead, they should be educated for 'world citizenship.'" In fact, Nussbaum was careful to qualify that students should give "special attention to the history and current situation of their own nation" and that her view "does not mean that one may not permissibly give one's own sphere a special degree of concern."
What's more, when contacted for comment by The Week, Nussbaum added that she "repudiated" her 1994 position "starting in articles from 2001." She now defends a "globally sensitive patriotism" in her books Political Emotions and The Cosmopolitan Tradition: A Noble but Flawed Ideal, published 19 and 25 years after the article Hawley quotes from.
Leo Marx, a former professor of American Studies at MIT, is quoted by Hawley as saying the "planet would be a better place to live if more people gave [their] primary allegiance 'to the community of human beings in the entire world.'" But this is presented as a utopian idea in the first paragraph of his article (a 1994 response to Nussbaum), and the entire rest of the piece raises problems with it. Marx notes that group and place-based identities are extremely powerful, which can't be simply abstracted away, and indeed defends certain aspects of American identity. For Hawley to say that he is contemptuous of "place and national feeling and religious faith" is simply wrong. (Marx did not respond to an emailed request for comment.)
Richard Sennett, a professor of sociology and history at NYU, did write (in a 1994 New York Times op-ed) that "The challenge and the promise of American society lie in finding ways of acting together without invoking the evil of a shared national identity." But when reached for comment by The Week, he disputed Hawley's broader attack. "I'm for a sense of place, and certainly for religious faith, but I'm against nationalism of the Trump sort, which celebrates our country at the expense of demeaning other people, places, and faiths." Indeed, Sennett's 2012 book Together is an exploration of just the type of social norms and structures, including religion, that allow for broad social cooperation and healthy national functioning.
Finally, Hawley quotes Lloyd Rudolph, a former professor of political science at the University of Chicago who died in 2016, as saying patriotism "excludes difference and speaks the language of hate and violence." Hawley has truncated this quote to remove crucial context and change its meaning. Indeed, Rudolph defends certain types of patriotism, writing:
Martin Luther King articulated and affirmed American patriotism in his inclusivist, non-violent pursuit of civil rights for African Americans. Today, his legacy helps gays and lesbians, single mothers, and new immigrants to claim civil rights and contributes to the discourse and practice of human rights in world arenas. [Boston Review]
Hawley's quote from Rudolph above specifically refers only to "scoundrel patriots of our time" like Oliver North, Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell. "Their patriotism excludes difference and speaks the language of hate and violence," Rudolph writes. Removing the first word sharply alters the meaning of the piece — making it appear as though Rudolph is contemptuous of patriotism as such, when he is only referring to a limited set of criminals and bigots.
It's hard to know why Hawley had to reach back to 1994 and sharply bend the words he found there to create the impression of an American academy united in its contempt for patriotism and American identity. Indeed, most of the discourse cycle quoted here was part of an argument sparked by the late philosopher Richard Rorty, who accused leftist academics of being insufficiently patriotic. (As usual, academics were spending just as much time arguing with each other as they were pointing out social problems.) But it does speak to the intellectual seriousness of Sen. Hawley's political project.