The Unshakeable Dogma That Underlies Modern Sociology

Feb. 13 2018

In The Sacred Project of American Sociology, Christian Smith turns the discipline’s tools on its practitioners and arrives at the conclusion that sociologists, as a group, are committed not merely to the pursuit of truth about human societies but to a “visionary project” of human emancipation. Thus, any conclusions not in keeping with this project, which Smith likens to a religious orthodoxy, are dismissed out of hand. Richard Spady writes in his review:

Things wouldn’t be so bad if the sacred project of American sociology were just the sacred project of American sociology. . . . The problem is that all of the human sciences as practiced in our elite universities are in thrall to the sacred project that Christian Smith so clearly articulates. . . .

In one case [described by Smith], a study that finds incredibly large disadvantages for women and correspondingly large advantages for men in divorce settlements wins scholarly awards and is widely cited in the popular press, law reviews, and court decisions (including one from the U.S. Supreme Court), but turns out—after a decade’s worth of dilatory tactics by its author in releasing its government-funded data—to be completely irreproducible. Not much happens.

Another author writes a book on the benefits of marriage to both partners; opprobrium at the meetings of the American Sociological Association (ASA) follows, despite her being an elected officer. That ends her tenure as an officer at the ASA. . . . In 2012 a University of Texas sociologist, Mark Regnerus, publishes a careful study [that points to the salutary effects of traditional marriage]. A firestorm follows: university inquiries, judicial proceedings, email dumps, the lot. A point has been made. No one will want to referee, let alone publish, a paper with similar findings for a very long time. . . .

Smith hopes (but only hopes) that by describing the way in which sociology has become a sacred project, he will restrain the fanaticism of his colleagues. But this is not how the sacred project works. Its logic demands that progressives continue to turn up the heat until all the frogs either jump or die. I’m for jumping.

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More about: Academia, History & Ideas, Marriage, Sociology

 

The U.S. Must Maintain the Kurdish Enclave in Eastern Syria

Aug. 16 2018

Presently only two rebel enclaves remain in Syria, and both are dependent on outside powers: one in the northwest, under Turkish control, and an area in the east controlled by the U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Only by continuing its support for the latter can America prevent Iranian domination of Syria, writes Jonathan Spyer. Officials in Washington have made various statements suggesting that the White House has no intention of ceding the country to Iran, but haven’t clarified what this means in practice:

Actions . . . are a better guide than sentiments. And it appears that the SDF leaders remain skeptical regarding America’s long-term plans. Last week, the first direct negotiations took place between their representatives and those of the Assad regime, in Damascus.

It is not quite clear where things are heading. But Israel’s interest in this is clear. Maintenance of the east Syrian enclave and the [U.S.] base in Tanf means keeping a substantial physical obstacle to the Iranian hope for a contiguous corridor [connecting it to Lebanon via Syria and Iraq]. It would also prevent an overall Iranian triumph in the war and give the West a place at the table in any substantive political negotiation over Syria’s future. . . .

Specifically, efforts should be made to ensure a formal U.S. declaration of a no-fly zone for regime and regime-allied aircraft east of the Euphrates. This move, reminiscent of the no-fly zone declared over Iraqi Kurdistan after the Gulf War of 1991, would with one stroke ensure the continued viability of the SDF-controlled area. There should also be a formal recognition of the SDF zone, or the “Democratic Federation of Northern Syria,” as it is formally known. This entity is not seeking independence from Damascus, so Western concerns regarding the formal breakup of Syria need not be raised by such a move.

As the strategic contest between Iran and its allies and the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East moves into high gear, it is essential that the West maintain its alliances and investments and behaves, and is seen to behave, as a credible and loyal patron and ally.

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More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Kurds, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy