The recurring problem with the MacArthur 'genius' grants

Must every genius be liberal?

(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

How many times can journalists write the same story? That's what I wondered when reading the most recent accounts of the MacArthur Fellows Program — informally known as "Genius Grants" — whose new members were announced this week. The unexpected phone call. The disbelief. The overwhelmed gratitude. It's a script as predictable as any romantic comedy or slasher movie.

The members of this year's cohort were also predictable. The fellows, chosen by a secretive board of recommenders, are nominally selected for "exceptional creativity," "promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishments," and "potential for the Fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work." But they really seem to be chosen on the basis of political commitment, academic fashion, and prior success with major cultural institutions. That explains why almost all of this year's fellows, including the ubiquitous Ibram X. Kendi, are dedicated to progresive conceptions of racial justice. And several have recently won other high profile awards.

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Samuel Goldman

Samuel Goldman is a national correspondent at He is also an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, where he is executive director of the John L. Loeb, Jr. Institute for Religious Freedom and director of the Politics & Values Program. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard and was a postdoctoral fellow in Religion, Ethics, & Politics at Princeton University. His books include God's Country: Christian Zionism in America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018) and After Nationalism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021). In addition to academic research, Goldman's writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications.