Why academia doesn’t lean right


Dang, this is a good video, succinct and to the point.

Why are there so few conservatives in academia? Because the the things conservatives want to argue about are no longer debatable. You can’t seriously operate as a biologist, for instance, and think the Earth is less than 10,000 years old…much less put together a class within the curriculum that tries to teach that nonsensical idea. I’m not as familiar with other disciplines, but are there economics professors who aren’t fringe cranks who teach trickle-down economics, Laffer curve and all that, when the evidence makes it patently clear that it just doesn’t work?

Don’t get me wrong, I know professors who are more conservative than I am — very few of us actually go so far as to suggest that the proletariat must rise up and seize the means of production — but we do tend to exclude the extremist positions. The problem is that modern conservatism consists entirely of extremist madness. Your typical professor is not some wild-eyed radical, but a cautious, moderate advocate for incremental improvement of society, and just that level of tepid support for betterment is antithetical to conservative thought.

Comments

  1. rietpluim says

    a cautious, moderate advocate for incremental improvement of society

    When did that even become left-leaning? You won’t find anything more center than that.

  2. says

    The general statement of this is that higher education requires critical thinking, and that’s the stock in trade of university researchers and instructors. That people who do critical thinking for a living are rarely aligned with the conservative movement in this country means that the conservative movement is wrong about everything.

  3. robro says

    I’m willing to bet that most of the faculty at my alma mater, a Southern Baptist college in east Tennessee, are quite conservative. However, many Baptists would consider them wildly, radically liberal because they aren’t conservative enough.

  4. hillaryrettig1 says

    I wish more faculty were more radical.

    Also, so many universities have been tainted by a corporate mentality. Administrators and boards who think like corporate bureaucrats are going to be reluctant to hire or give tenure to someone radical – or even semi-cutting edge. The Hannah Nikole Jones tenure debacle being a good example.

  5. PaulBC says

    This reminds me of what Paul Krugman has said about the distinction between “liberal professional economists, conservative professional economists and professional conservative economists.” The first two groups consist of serious academics who differ on politics. The third consists of the loudest promoters of debunked ideas. As Krugman puts it

    The truth is that the modern G.O.P. doesn’t want to hear from serious economists, whatever their politics. It prefers charlatans and cranks, who are its kind of people.

    One effect is that even serious economists sometimes sign onto GOP positions that they don’t really promote in their academic writing.

    So yeah, it is probably a great source of cognitive dissonance to carry out research in many fields while being “conservative” according to the current US definition.

  6. says

    You know, if conservatism has become nothing but ridiculous extremist ideas which have no basis in reality, then it means that a consciously centrist position is also a ridiculous extremist position with no basis in reality. (Not that this is actually news.) If reality leads you to a position considered centrist, that’s one thing, but if you’re just avoiding extremes for the sake of it then you are deliberately accommodating people who you know are underpants-on-head insane and pretending that their point of view is rational enough to be taken into account.

  7. kingoftown says

    That Ben Shapiro interview with Andrew Neil is really funny by the way. Not used to British style interviews where your bullshit is actually questioned he assumes (the very conservative) Andrew Neil is a liberal.

  8. garnetstar says

    Yeah, I agree with the general idea here.

    Quite a few chemistry professors think that they’re rebpublicans and conservatives, or think that they’re christians, but that they mean a sort of leaning towards preserving their own wealth, and so don’t give a damn about any of the culture war or actual warmongering or immigrants or anything else. They just have a vague idea that if taxes are low, they’ll have more money. So, they’re not the modern American right at all.

    Even the christians are all on the love-and-tolerance-for-all side and don’t do anything political about it.

  9. says

    Political “conservatism” in the USA and to a lesser extent Canada has become de facto social regressivism.

    That fact makes for an even quicker, pithier response to why academia is hostile to US political conservatives: there are reasons that society has changed. If you want to change it back, you have to win an argument that’s already occurred and that your side already lost. Theoretically you could do this by bringing new data to bear that happens to show that previous policy X produced better results than new policy Y and that a policy reversion is thus advisable. But since they are social regressives and not even policy regressives, they don’t argue in such a way. MAGA is a blind assertion that society was “better” in the past, and that we should therefore remake current society to more closely resemble society as it was (or as it was perceived to be) when the individual speaker first became politically and socially aware.

    While you can find different people who will argue that Pink is better than Madonna (or vice versa), that’s not really a position amenable to research, data, and critical inquiry. It’s a preference. People with nothing more than an idiosyncratic preference for Pink are just as unwelcome in critical discussions as those with nothing more than an idiosyncratic preference for Madonna. The difference is that current pop music is by definition popular at the current moment, so in campuses dominated by the work of critical inquiry and by the demographic of very young adults, you get neither a work space nor a social space dominated by people who are invested in the social supremacy of past times.

    Unable to make arguments for their preferences in spaces devoted to critical inquiry who have long since recognized that personal preferences are categorically different from critical argument, and unable to win arguments for their personal preferences in spaces where their own preferences are by definition not the currently widespread preferences, then neither in the labs, nor the conference rooms, nor the classrooms, nor the dorms will their own priorities (remaking society in accord with their preferences) be the shared priorities of the group.

    In short, they want to relitigate arguments of the past in which their side lost, but on new terms of personal preference which they believe that lefties must respect, since lefties tend to prefer personal autonomy. But since they have nothing other than personal preference, the most the left (or anyone else in the university environment) will concede is, “You do your funky thing, but we’ll do ours, in accordance with our own preferences.” We won’t be ruled by their personal preferences, and they have nothing else to argue. Thus the “hypocrite” claim, fundamentally misunderstanding critical inquiry’s indifference to questions of preference and the left’s ideas of autonomy and individualism to believe that they can control others on the basis of preference.

    The social regressive can never find purchase in the minds of the young who are products of society’s now, and the argument to preference can never find purchase in the circles of critical thought.

    They are doomed to failure if this is the battleground they choose. This also has something to say about the primacy of politics in social regressivism: politics actually is about preference. It also has something to say about why political conservatives (who in the US are largely social regressives) believe that political liberals are insincere in their use of science. They have preferences and cherry pick the “science” or facts (or lies) to bolster their persuasive efforts. Political liberals, however, often genuinely prefer that policies be determined by science and facts, then mold their policies to conform to facts about the world. While other liberals exist (and while humans are a mixed bag and some issues are simply not comparable thus allowing a single person to formulate some preferred policies as a result of science and in other cases selectively cite science to support a previously embraced policy), the social regressive/political conservative simply fails to understand (in too many, though certainly not all cases) the mind that embraces facts first and preferences second.

  10. jrkrideau says

    I’m not as familiar with other disciplines, but are there economics professors who aren’t fringe cranks who teach trickle-down economics, Laffer curve and all that, when the evidence makes it patently clear that it just doesn’t work?

    Michael Hudson? John Quiggin? Richard D. Wolff?

  11. consciousness razor says

    Your typical professor is not some wild-eyed radical, but a cautious, moderate advocate for incremental improvement of society, and just that level of tepid support for betterment is antithetical to conservative thought.

    That doesn’t fit with the claim that they exhibit the purported “traits” of rationality, open-mindedness, curiosity, and a readiness to change one’s mind in the face of new evidence.

    So what do you do with that evidence? Toss it out because it doesn’t make you feel superior?

    I know! I’d call most professors centrist, not leftist. But in America, that is the far Left.

    No, it isn’t. The left just doesn’t have much political power, which is very different from it not existing.

  12. birgerjohansson says

    The Swedish conservatives would be dismissed as left-wing by Republicans. Opposing the death penalty? Accepting long paid leave for parenting? Communism!

  13. birgerjohansson says

    I might add that “conservatives” in the English-speaking world now is somewhere between Italy’s Berlusconi and Hungary’s kleptocrat Viktor Orban.
    It is a good thing to have a language barrier sometimes.

  14. davidc1 says

    @8 He set up a news channel ,gb news ,sinking faster than a Hippo wearing lead wellies .
    Drafted that smarmy git nigle farge to help save it ,the gammonites don’t trust the BBC .

  15. drew says

    The problem is that modern conservatism consists entirely of extremist madness.

    I think a much greater problem is that liberal views have also slid rightward as those conservative views did. The academics teaching critical thinking are almost universally right wing, authoritarian, and corporate-beholden. And those are the liberals!

  16. unclefrogy says

    @14
    that is how it looks to me as well does not bode well going forward though if we were returning to the past….

  17. says

    davidc1@15

    Hippo wearing lead wellies

    Allow me to express my admiration for your turn of phrase. :-)

    smarmy git

    One of the few good things that came from brexit is that the EU parliament is without said smarmy git and his friends. And good riddance! May his lies come back to haunt him.

  18. Pierce R. Butler says

    Crip Dyke… @ # 10: The social regressive can never find purchase in the minds of the young who are products of society’s now…

    Eh what? Are the Proud Boys, Richard Spencer, Milo Y, et al, a gang of geezers in disguise?

  19. blf says

    @18, What “[thug] national platform” ? The nazis didn’t have one in the last election, RNC 2020: The Republican Party now the Party of Trump: “[… T]he delegates […] passed a one-page resolution stating that they weren’t going to have a new platform, but instead the party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the president’s America-first agenda.”

  20. sc_e7cb37166b0ed7e2545034076d87e16c says

    This is also why Think Tanks funded by billionaires exist….they’re the only ones willing top publish white papers in support of their reactionary positions. Nobody in Academia will because they have integrity and a commitment to evidence and truth.

  21. unclefrogy says

    @23
    spencer is 43, founders of the proud boys are in their 50’s male maybe but not boys clearly and Milo is the youngest on your list he is 36. So I would say that no they are not college age nor students, the proud boys was “founded by media types” kind of like the tea baggers only more clearly racist.
    they can call themselves any fool thing they want they are just brown shirts without the discipline, klansmen with out ritual. and I would bet very hard to control as well.

  22. Pierce R. Butler says

    unclefrogy @ # 23 – You got me with my bad examples: I should’ve done my homework before naming names.

    That said, I still see a lot of College Republicans, Turning Pointers (Charlie Kirk is 27), etc, who qualify both attitudinally and demographically as Trump Youth™.

  23. seachange says

    Forty years ago, my Geology department had a pair of gentlemen who were (what is now knows as) Young Earth Creationists. They wanted to learn Geology, and got good grades at it, so that they could be professors and proclaim …the truth…yeah.

    They did argue with each other briefly over YEC and long term creationism. It looked like a lover’s spat.

    There is no liberal media, and by me talking to them as someone who is Green, this is a weird post. The youth of this country are not liberal, they only think that they are because the alternative is (not readily recognizable by them since they have no feel that they should have learned any history much less the history that schools teach) Bonkers. You have blinkers on CripDyke #10

    Drew #16 Also, the beatified and sanctified by today’s conservatives Ronald Reagan would not have stood a chance in today’s political climate. He allowed gasssp amnesty for illegal immigrants.

  24. unclefrogy says

    @24
    there has always been young republicans even back in the hippie radical free speech ban the bomb 60’s even Goldwater youth I seem to remember hearing that Hillery Clinton was one. It has always had strong connection with the older establishment conservatives. I do not think they ever dominated very often (maybe)

  25. Pierce R. Butler says

    unclefrogy @ # 24: I do not think they ever dominated very often (maybe)

    Living quite near to a major state U campus, I can tell you the college Repubs are thriving as never before – definitely “finding purchase” in contradiction to CD’s assertion @ # 10. They may not “dominate”, but they do have the political momentum on campus; the progressive factions are clearly on the defensive, and not just because their protests adhere to social distancing, etc, guidelines.

  26. davidc1 says

    @19 Thank you ,I try my best .When the donald pussy grabbing tape came to light I started calling him
    The Snatch Snatcher ,which I was hoping I could trademark .Chortle chortle .

    As for the smarmy git ,do you know he tried to become an MP 7 times ,one time he was even beat by a guy
    dressed as a Lobster .
    I think he has now set his heart on being made a lord ,£300 odd quid just for turning up ,he would be in pig heaven .

  27. acroyear says

    #7 ” but if you’re just avoiding extremes for the sake of it then you are deliberately accommodating people who you know are underpants-on-head insane and pretending that their point of view is rational enough to be taken into account.”

    And this is precisely what happened to David Brooks and George Will. Their insistence on defining ‘moderate’ as not being between fixed ideological positions a-la actual political science, but instead “between the parties” effectively justified the GOP’s move to the hard right. It was always (and for Will it still is) for the Democrats to be wrong than it was to point out that the Republican position was nonsensical (or worse).

    They would call for the Democrats to do something, and years later as the country moved right, the Democrats would do exactly what they called for…but now it wasn’t the sensible decision, it was the “extreme liberal” one. Always more important to say Democrats are wrong than to actually acknowledge that what you wanted is what the country was finally doing.

    They are the root rot that destroyed this country, by always giving validity to the Republican position and allowing the country to move rightward into nonsense and a growing threat of fascism.

  28. PaulBC says

    davidc1@28

    I think he has now set his heart on being made a lord

    I can see the appeal. My first order of business would to get “drunk as a lord” and next to find nine other lords to commence leaping. That is what they do, right? It sounds like a lot more fun than the US Senate.

  29. freemage says

    IME, this is also part of why journalists often seem ‘liberal’ to conservatives–their work necessarily entails encountering people and problems that privilege might have otherwise allowed them to ignore, and to see places where “The System” isn’t working, and even to encounter, when they’re lucky, to find places where someone is trying something new that does.

    All of these elements push people who are working in the field towards a more liberal viewpoint, on average, with even the conservatives forcing themselves to keep their eyes open enough to see reality. That’s why FOX and similar outlets are often so bad at even basic journalism–you can’t do the job of basic journalism, such as fact-checking, while also holding onto your absurdist views–one of them has to go.

  30. davidc1 says

    @30 The house of lords is an hangover from the distant past ,before a bill can become law ,it is sent to the house of old farts ,they vote yay or neigh, it’s a lot more involved than that .
    The Labour party won’t do anything to get rid of it ,because as the old saying puts it ,Old Socialists don’t die ,they just go to the house of lords .
    What sticks in the craw of atheists over here is that there are 26 bishops there that are automatically given seats .

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