Of course, the question is not whether there should be one humanities czar or many humanities czars, but whether the federal government should be involved in the humanities business at all. The article title, after all, is “Humanities Endowment Should Get Back to Basics, Scholars Say.” What could be more basic than reading the Constitution?
Ivey is a perfect example of the problem. He is the author of Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights. How did government subsidies for the humanities become a “right”?
As I have tried to explain in an earlier post, it is not a right at all, but an entitlement—like education, health care, or housing.
Congress has ignored this distinction since the New Deal, as it has expanded its powers beyond those enumerated in the Constitution.
At the newly-opened National Capitol Visitors Center, Congress claims that such programs are one of the Constitution’s enumerated ends and purposes that it calls “exploration.”
The text of the Constitution that they use to support this is Article One, Section Eight’s grant of “power… to promote the progress of science and the useful arts.”
Let’s be charitable and assume that this is constitutional illiteracy rather than deliberate deviousness. For following that clause is “by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”
In most cases, the Constitution gives Congress discretion as to the means it employs to achieve the enumerated end. But in this case, the means are specified—this is commonly referred to as the “patents and copyrights clause.”
So: Congress has taken one of the more restrictive clauses of the Constitution and turned it into one of the most permissive. We should get back to basics, indeed.