Don’t Kill the National Endowment for the Humanities

The National Endowment for the Humanities is again in the news as a possible casualty of the new administration’s effort to cut costs. Conservatives should fight for the agency.

Conservatives worry that humanities scholars have turned away from enduring questions to embrace political fads. But under Bruce Cole’s administration, from 2001 to 2009, the NEH established the Enduring Questions program. Consider this description of the program’s concerns: “enduring questions persist across historical eras, regions, and world cultures . . . . They transcend time and place but are also relevant to our lives today. Enduring questions have more than one plausible or compelling answer, allow for dialogue across generations, and inspire genuine intellectual pluralism.”

The program, inaugurated in 2008, lasted through this year and supported courses that brought such questions, and great texts that consider them, to the attention of students. I detail my own participation in the program here. What’s not to like?

In 2002, under Cole, the NEH launched the We the People initiative in direct response to a concern Cole shares with many conservatives, that Americans know too little about their history and the principles of the Founding. As Cole explains, The initiative “support[ed] scholarship on American history and culture . . . which help[ed] spread and deepen public understanding of founding principles and their ramifications.” The We the People initiative also helped “teachers improve their subject matter knowledge” and to “preserve archives.” The program lasted until 2012.

The NEH has inspired some extraordinary and valuable work, along with some silly stuff, across multiple administrations. There is no question that the NEH has, on average, moderated the excesses of the academic humanities. The Cole administration, in particular, shows that an NEH chairman moved by love of the humanities, not partisan zeal, can do great things.


  • Jonathan Marks

    Jonathan Marks, author of "Let’s Be Reasonable: A Conservative Case for Liberal Education," is professor of politics at Ursinus College.

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9 thoughts on “Don’t Kill the National Endowment for the Humanities

  1. Sure, among the millions of noxious activities a couple American activities sneaked through. Too big a chance that the evil continues to the detriment of the country. Risk analysis says blow it up and defund entirely.

  2. Aren’t all the humanities full professors with lots of “research time”, thanks to underpaid adjuncts, expected to expend effort into resolving the enduring questions? But of course, they are the ones getting the NEH grants.

    So double dipping with no output again.

  3. I’m with Vanderleun. The only way we can “save” the NEH is to rip it out by the roots and start over. It’s simply too far gone in its current state.

  4. What’s not to like? I don’t like that government must have its finger in every cultural activity. This is not the proper role or place for government. If the art is worthy of notice, it will generate funds for itself. I’ve long hated the idea that a working musician must play long hours, crappy clubs and music they would rather not play in order to make a living, while government funded elitists get their operas and symphonies for free. Same with art. Artists who are worthy will find an audience and a payday. If not, then the hell with them . The government shouldn’t be subsidizing art in any way, shape or form, however worthy you think it is. Who made you arbiter of what is good and what is not? Who made the NEH arbiter? Oh yeah, the democrats. Enough. Defund.

  5. Please cite in the constitution where taxpayer funds are to be allocated for NEH and other non essential operations, then I’ll agree to their funding.

    BTW – I’m not going to hold my breath because this is something you simply cannot do.

  6. From 2013 until 2016, what has the NEH done ? That should either justify its continuing, or confirm its misuse which justifies its elimination …

  7. Wrong. NEH has to go. And one reason for that, quite specifically, is the Enduring Questions program. You see, it depends entirely on the question. You may think the program rings in Socrates or some such luminary from days bygone, and puts him in touch with the smart phone youth of today.

    Judged by my school, nothing could be further from the truth. From where I sit, it’s all climate change, imperialism, gender bias and the like. Not to mention that any university that wants to pursue these notions can do so on its own dime. You are totally wrong on this. And, heck, it comes from an Obama appointee. Sheesh.

  8. Sorry, it’s got to go. Too much depravity and too many SJWs infesting it.

    Ditto National Propaganda Radio and the Corporation for Propaganda Broadcasting.

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