Defunding the Humanities

The American Enterprise, May 1, 1995.


I served on the National Council on the Humanities from 1982-88. My first exposure to the Endowment came in 1982 when, going through a list of proposals that had been approved before we had been appointed, Gertrude Himmelfarb and I came across an award of $160,000 for a film that would celebrate the graffiti on New York subway cars. We brought this to the attention of Chairman William Bennett, who killed the grant. The filmmakers then applied to the National Endowment for the Arts which approved the award a year later.

Properly understood, of course, the humanities, like the arts, know no party, and the NEH has done things that both Republicans and Democrats can support, such as subsidizing the Library of America editions of the works of classic American authors. It also funded Ken Burns’s Civil War series. No fair-minded person can object to these grants. Unfortunately, any fair-minded person can object to many another grant.

American Enterprise Institute