The National Endowment for the Humanities is one of several organizations that would receive no funding under the President's proposed budget. These savings would then be used to pay for increased expenditures elsewhere. I have reviewed grant proposals for the NEH several times, but many folks might not know what it is or how it uses federal dollars. The NEH provides a nice summary of its purpose and mission, but there is one part of the story that isn't readily apparent.

Financial support for research in medicine, science, technology, and the social sciences is decreasing across the board but that funding always has been greater than the funding available for projects in history, sociology, English, communication, media studies, philosophy, etc. The NEH has been the most important funding source for researchers who work in these areas. No doubt, Ken Burns will find private funding for his next documentary film; (The NEH supported his famous multi-part documentary on the Civil War). But for hundreds if not thousands of average researchers, the elimination of the NEH would stall their work or it would never get started.

Critics of the NEH (and PBS, the NEA, etc.) often ask a variation of the question, "How can we ask a coal miner in West Virginia to give up his tax dollars for research on the Folk Religion of the Sephardic Jews (a 1992 NEH project) or The History of Spanish Caribbean Music in New York City, 1940-1990 (2013-14 project) or A History of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (a 2013 project)?"

The answer to this question is straightforward: A country's taxes should go toward the maintenance of its well-being, broadly defined. Obviously that includes things like roads and bridges, but it also should mean ideas and knowledge, especially knowledge that does not result in a patent or a commercial product. A healthy country, a successful nation needs to have a stake in the knowledge that its educators create.

Members of Congress and the Trump administration argue that Western Civilization is under threat. Well, Western Civilization was largely built through humanistic scholarship in institutions of higher learning from the 1600s to today. If you really want to defend the culture and values of "Western Civilization" then you have an obligation to defend the role that the NEH plays in public life.