September 28, 2003

No Conservatives Need Apply?

Over at Crooked Timber there's an interesting discussion of David Brook's latest NYTimes op-ed, in which he suggests that conservatives are few and far between on college campuses. I tend to agree with Timothy Burke's comment that "Brooksí claims have some modest truth to them." To be sure, the accusation -- frequently made by those on the right -- that college campuses are hotbeds of professorial radicalism is grossly inaccurate. Most of those who make this charge probably don't realize (or else choose to ignore) the extent to which careerist imperatives mitigate against political activism. Still, I think it's fair to say that in many humanities disciplines, the default setting is roughly left-liberal (though not hard left, by any means). As Burke puts it, "itís also true that in the humanities, at selective institutions (with the odd exception), academics lean loosely to the left and tend to regard anyone who self-defines as a conservative or who takes notably conservative stands as an oddball or lightweight." Though he also notes, and I think quite rightly, that

What Brooks misses, of course, is that this isnít just about conservatism. Virtually anything that departed from a carefully groomed sense of acceptable innovation, including ideas and positions distinctively to the left and some that are neither left nor right, could be just as potentially disastrous.

Interestingly enough, Brooks does acknowledge the job market as a factor:

Conservative professors emphasize that most discrimination is not conscious. A person who voted for President Bush may be viewed as an oddity, but the main problem in finding a job is that the sorts of subjects a conservative is likely to investigate ó say, diplomatic or military history ó do not excite hiring committees. Professors are interested in the subjects they are already pursuing, and in a horrible job market it is easy to toss out applications from people who are doing something different.

In this respect, I think the most interesting quote in Brook's piece comes from Robert George, professor of Political Science at Princeton:

'Here's what I'm thinking when an outstanding kid comes in,' says George, of Princeton. 'If the kid applies to one of the top graduate schools, he's likely to be not admitted. Say he gets past that first screen. He's going to face pressure to conform, or he'll be the victim of discrimination. It's a lot harder to hide then than it was as an undergrad.

'But say he gets through. He's going to run into intense discrimination trying to find a job. But say he lands a tenure-track job. He'll run into even more intense discrimination because the establishment gets more concerned the closer you get to the golden ring. By the time you come up for tenure, you're in your mid-30's with a spouse and a couple of kids. It's the worst time to be uncertain about your career. Can I really take the responsibility of advising a kid to take these kinds of risks?'

Good question, and I give George credit for thinking about his responsiblity in such terms. But the unsuspecting reader might come away from this with the erroneous impression that a liberal professor need suffer no scruples about encouraging a liberal-leaning undergraduate student to go on to graduate school. Nothing could be further from the truth. Job market prospects and tenurablity aren't only (or even primarily) about political orientation. And if faculty do lean more liberal than conservative, this applies, I've no doubt, to contingent no less than to tenurable faculty. Though he chooses to frame the issue in explicitly political terms, George's concern about taking the responsibility of advising an undergraduate to assume the considerable risks involved in the pursuit of an academic career should also be applied much more broadly.


ADDENDUM:

Erin O'Connor also comments on Tim Burke's comment with an entry titled Burke on Brooks.

AND FURTHER:

The omniscient, if not omnipotent, Ogged of Unfogged has directed my attention to Virginia Postrel's response to the Brooks column.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at September 28, 2003 06:40 PM
Comments
1

At YaleInsider (www.yaleinsider.org) we were struck by how David Brooks' laments about "discrimination" sound similar to the experience of organizing academics.

David Brooks says, "If it were my kid, I'd say go to graduate school--read the books you want to read. Then go to Washington, where you won't feel embattled because you'll exchange ideas with liberals and others in a more intellectually diverse setting. You'll probably end up doing more good."

YaleInsider retorts: "If it were my kid, I'd say go to graduate school, read the books you want to read, join the union, because you'll exchange ideas with all types of workers in a more intellectually diverse setting. You'll probably end up doing more good. But stay in the Academy. Organize the Academy. Don't abandon it."


Don't abandon the Academy to the status quo!

Posted by: Antony Dugdale at September 28, 2003 07:06 PM
2

I'm not an ideological conservative, but I have always resented the default Leftist position of the humanities. The automatic hums and head bobs of ritual affirmation whenever expense-account radicals want to signify that they haven't sold out (never mind how odious and hypocritical the rule of the Left has been in the academy over the last generation).

Obviously, a genuine radical is not going to be greeted by santimonius applause and rapid promotion.

The humanities desperately need some conservatives if only for the sake of breaking out of the echo-chamber of the last 30 years.

I don't like the feeling that I have to conform to some party line just get through grad school, get a job, get tenure, and so on. I'd like the freedom to disagree once in a while without the fear that the room will go silent like some piano saloon in the old West.

Just once, I'd like to hear someone say something at a convention that challenges the political prejudices of 99% of the audience. Except for the struggles over academic labor, I just don't see any substantial debates in the humanities these days. We're all multiculturalists now, etc.

Of course, here I am preaching to the choir when I should be organizing.

Posted by: THB at September 28, 2003 07:19 PM
3

i guess one of the few advantages of being at a little-known liberal arts college is that not on being some shade of left isn't much of a problem. as long as the teaching evals and the heavy service loads are met, one's politics are usually not a serious issue - unless they deal with internal administrative issues.

at many schools linked to evangelical denominations, i suspect liberal dominance is not a major issue. of course, the fact so many academics dismiss professors at this type of schools means that scholars at places like Patrick Henry or Liberty might have trouble influencing their fields.

Posted by: better left nameless at September 28, 2003 11:19 PM
4

Well, as an ultra-leftist I can only say that the academic politically-correct line is very narrow indeed. The friends I've had who went on to careers mostly became much more circumspect and more politically mainstream. (Caveat: two of them went to U. Texas). The one who remained ultra-left started talking a useless academic code language which required Lacan, Gramsci and Zizek to be frequently mentioned.

I think that the main rule for up-and-coming academics in the humanities would be to avoid making enemies and avoid controversy, while cautiously trying to figure out what the safest, most viable militant stance is. This would be a sort-of-leftist stance, at least in a world in which Al Gore is regarded as left, but with a heavy, heavy bias toward nuanced and subtle forms of cultural and sexual leftism.

This all reminds me of the time decades ago when one of the gas station chains here started hiring female attendants, most of whom were lesbian. It didn't strike me as the kind of victory that feminism should want to have a lot of. Sticking a lot of left-liberals in the English and French departments strikes me as a reasonably good way to make them miserable and putting them where they'll do the least harm.

Whatever Left bias there is is limited to a few humanities departments. And as I pointed out on the Lemon thread, conservatives are reluctant to earn as little money as English PhDs (even successful ones) do.

I've been told that there's a category for me -- "Left Reactionary".

Posted by: Zizka at September 29, 2003 09:24 AM
5

THB writes: Just once, I'd like to hear someone say something at a convention that challenges the political prejudices of 99% of the audience.

My last experience with serious "heat" at a meeting was the 1995 African Studies Association conference in Orlando FL. (Perhaps Tim Burke attended this, as well; the rest of you can try google-ing "Curtin & Ghettoizing".)

Posted by: at September 29, 2003 09:35 AM
6

Try "Curtin ghettoizing" without the quotes. The other will return you a "no files found."

Posted by: Roger Sweeny at September 29, 2003 11:59 AM
7

Nobody seems to come off very well in that Curtin exchange, at least as it's reported.

Posted by: Miriam at September 29, 2003 12:56 PM
8

Yeah, that was just a big heaping pile of badness all around. I don't think *that's* quite the kind of unconventional wisdom that we might like to hear in a convention address, at any rate. I used to have a piece about it up on my site, I should dig it out and revive it.

Posted by: Timothy Burke at September 29, 2003 04:42 PM
9

I posted a response to O'Connor here.

Also, Timothy, I'm disappointed that you didn't respond to my CT comment comparing Galactus and Greenspan, as it makes an important point and mentions, need I say, Galactus.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at September 29, 2003 04:51 PM
10

I have not posted a specific response to O'Connor's post, but I have started a new blog to document her ongoing hypocrisies. It is here:

http://oconnorwatch.blogspot.com/

Allen

Posted by: Allen at September 29, 2003 07:34 PM
11

Allen:

I just looked at your "oconnorwatch" blog. I don't know you, but it seems very, um, personally motivated. Bleh.

Posted by: rose at September 29, 2003 08:20 PM
12

If Greenspan is Galactus, then who is the Watcher? For that matter, who's the Silver Surfer? Let's make sure we carry our metaphors as far as they'll go.

Posted by: Timothy Burke at September 29, 2003 09:01 PM
13

Yike, Allen, that's some nasty stuff. What, did Erin O'Connor steal your lunch money or something? What's your problem?

Posted by: Timothy Burke at September 29, 2003 09:05 PM
14

Timothy,

You're wrenching things out of context here. While these characters may compose, ahem, a dramaturgical triad, Galactus's near-omnipotence can always already be cited absent from the presence of the the other two. It's a floating signifier.

Also, if you haven't figured it out yet, the oconnorwatch blog is quite clearly designed to discredit anyone who criticizes Prof. O'Connor.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at September 29, 2003 09:40 PM
15

Thank you, Allen, for raising the tone of discussion in the academic corner of the blogosphere. Seriously: what gives? A blog devoted to personal attacks on another blogger strikes me as a very bad idea.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at September 30, 2003 12:58 AM
16

Forgive me if I indulge for a moment in a semi-relevant whine.

I like David Brooks. Whereas I don't always agree with him, his commentary on the News Hour is generally interesting, and he provides a perspective worth hearing.

These days I am finding it very difficult to really care about conservatives feeling left out of the "left-wing" academy. When I return from a conference/research trip in Germany, Arnold Schwarzenegger might be governor-elect of my state. Every day, there seems to be a new horror coming out of the Bush White House. When faced with all this, I'm supposed to now be concerned about the lack of conservative voices in the humanities. I know I should, but I'm finding it very difficult.

Please forgive my whine and any trivializing of very serious issues. This recall election is taking a toll out here.

Posted by: David at September 30, 2003 01:38 AM
17

At the risk of repeating myself, I shall repeat my comment from CT:

Tim comes the closest to getting it right.

Here is the problem. To a fish, the air seems like the vacuum of outer space. The academy in America lives in its own little world somewhere on the outskirts of Paris, France. The rest of us (a/k/a the chumps) live in a trailer park near Luchenbach, TX.

While the academics sip their chablis and nibble at their brie, they complain that the chumps do not send them enough money.

The chumps, who are still intimidated by the academics, gnaw on their venison jerky and guzzle their beers and shrug their shoulders in blank incomprehension. Not liberal? they ask. If they arenít, who is? Who do they think they are kidding?

Bottom line. The chumps are either pond scum who must be exterminated or they are your meal ticket and they must be understood and courted. Because there are a lot more of them than there are of you and they will inevitably divert the tax revenues and privileges on which you live, to services they can understand, your continued dissdain for and uncomprehension of the average American, can only injure your own interests.

I no more expect the academics to follow my advice than I expect the Palestinians to behave like rational men. I am therefor long DeVry and U Phoenix and short the rest of the academy.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 30, 2003 11:27 AM
18

Chun:

Consider changing the moniker to "Chun the Incomprehensible".

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 30, 2003 11:29 AM
19

I no more expect the academics to follow my advice than I expect the Palestinians to behave like rational men.

Which goes a long way, explanation-wise.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at September 30, 2003 11:31 AM
20

T. Burke wrote: I used to have a piece about it [i.e., Curtin's article] up on my site, I should dig it out and revive it.

I'd enjoy seeing it on your site (or here), perhaps joined by your take on Henige/Omphaloskepsis (once on your site, but now absent)?

Posted by: at September 30, 2003 11:44 AM
21

David:

"Arnold Schwarzenegger might be governor-elect of my state"

Oh, the humanity! A moderate Repebulican might be elected to the California Governorship! the world is coming to an end!

Get a grip on yourself man. You are about be become the poster boy for those conservatives who think that the academy is completly out of touch with mainstream America:-)

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 30, 2003 11:48 AM
22

Off-topic (what is Galacticus, anyway?) but someone should emphasize a few things in this interminable debate.

1. Free speech and academic freedom mean that university professors, newspapers, etc. will sometimes say things that most people disagree with. That's true, folks! Not just a good idea -- it's the law!

2. Political opinion is not evenly distributed throughout the electorate. As long as there are any liberals left at all (and I'm aware not everyone thinks that this is a good thing), there will be MORE of them in some places than there are in others! (The mathematical proof of this is too hard for you people to understand, but trust me.)

3. People tend to hire competent people somewhat similiar to themselves, and there are literally tons of competent history and english PhDs to choose from. (They go 14 to the ton right now, in case you were wondering). The plight of the conservative English PhD is like the plight of the anarchist banker or the gay dope-smoking Mormon. Deal with it. (When conservatives define themselves as an oppressed minority, mostly they're just making a snarky monkeywrench reducio-ad-absurdum attack on affirmative action, etc. Some of the more clueless among them do seem to succeed in working up sincere self-pity and indignation, but we should just let themselves cry themselves out.)

4. A lot of conservatives can't get hired because they're dumb, dumb, dumb. That's the big secret we're not supposed to talk about. There's a guy named Reg whining in Matt Yglesias's comments, but if you read his comments you know he couldn't make it in any decent grad school.

Incidentally, my hands are clean. "The University" hasn't been good to me, and I don't expect that to change. I really hate post-modernism and gender studies too, but the conservative whiners are a pitiful bunch except when they're sinister.

Posted by: Zizka at September 30, 2003 12:17 PM
23

"Political opinion is not evenly distributed throughout the electorate. As long as there are any liberals left at all (and I'm aware not everyone thinks that this is a good thing), there will be MORE of them in some places than there are in others! (The mathematical proof of this is too hard for you people to understand, but trust me.)"

Yes, one should be unsurprised that there may be _some_ lumping -- indeed, what would be very surprising would be if every naturally-occurring sub-group of persons had a ratio of political views that closely reflected the breakdown of the overall group. Nonetheless, _particular_ lumpings can be surprising, and require explanations.

If a couple of English department over here had way more liberals than conservatives, and a couple of English departments over there had it the other way 'round, that may just be the laws of probability doing their thang. But if _almost all_ English departments have way more liberals than conservatives, but there's no such imbalance in the overall population (or even the overall college-educated population), then that does indeed seem like a real pattern, requiring a real explanation.

(None of this is meant to suggest that an anti-conservative bias is the right explanation, of course!)

Posted by: JW at September 30, 2003 02:37 PM
24

Zizka..when you say "The mathematical proof of this is too hard for you people to understand, but trust me..," who precisely do you mean by "you people"? Adjunct professors? Conservatives? Humanities majors?

Posted by: David Foster at September 30, 2003 02:57 PM
25

This just points to a narrowing of the political spectrum in the United States (and possibly the world). When Howard Dean and Bill Clinton are considered radical, out of control leftists, you know something is skewed somewhere! However, I do think that there is a certain "correctness" in scholarship that is sometimes tied to political beliefs. For example, in my dissertation, I examined the popular art practices of lower income, white women. This was problematic to a committee member (who was a white woman) who wanted a "multiracial" viewpoint even though the deliberate focus of the research was on white women, who seem to embrace a certain type of popular art style (i.e. country crafts). To study other ethnicities would have missed the point and was beyond the scope of the project. I had to argue my point more forcefully, and for that I'm glad.
I can definately see that certain "red hot" fields would be subject to a silent yet potent ranking of importance, or the idea that only certain frameworks are acceptable for interpreting research. Sometimes this is tied to politics, but can also exist among 100% liberal and leftist departments. Some leftists view race as only one factor in social class while others see it as a primary factor, for example.

Posted by: Cat at September 30, 2003 04:00 PM
26

Robert,

I don't know if you live in California. If you don't, you've no idea what is going on here. Schwarzenegger is soft on the issues, and pandering to everyone, by the way. If, heaven forbid, he should win, we'll see how moderate he really is, once he actually has to govern. By the way, I'd prefer McClintock to Schwarzenegger. One may not agree with McClintock, but at least we'd have a governor far more honest than the "Last Action Hero." You and the rest of middle America, and all those other "normal people" can stew on that for a while.

I may be wrong for feeling this, but I don't care. As long as "conservatives" are gaining power all over this country, it's hard for me to care about the lack of them in the academy.

Posted by: David at September 30, 2003 05:15 PM
27

David:

Its not that we don't care. We do. But you got to admit it, it really is humorous. And you have no one to blame but yourselves.

I do not see any so called liberals starting a drive to reform your dingbat constitution, so excuse me if I take you less than seriously.

"As long as "conservatives" are gaining power all over this country, it's hard for me to care about the lack of them in the academy."

Let me try one more time to explain to you why you should care. For the purposes of this discussion, I assume that you are an academic.

The conservatives are not space aliens, and Zizka to the contrary notwithstanding, they are not idiots. Furthermore, they are your neighbors, the parents of your students, present or potential and voters to boot.

Whether or not you know it, the academy depends upon the good will of the larger society to survive. You alienate large blocks of society at your own risk.

To put it bluntly, you admit that conservatives are gaining power. If the academy is going to be uniformly hostile to conservatism, conservatives will repay that hostility by balance future budget deficits on the backs of the academy.

A word to the wise is sufficent.


Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 30, 2003 07:44 PM
28

"1. Free speech and academic freedom mean that university professors, newspapers, etc. will sometimes say things that most people disagree with. That's true, folks! Not just a good idea -- it's the law!"

And if only the liberals who run the academy would accord those rights to conservatives, we would all be happier.

So for the cheap shot but it was too easy to pass up.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 30, 2003 07:48 PM
29

"Political opinion is not evenly distributed throughout the electorate. As long as there are any liberals left at all (and I'm aware not everyone thinks that this is a good thing), there will be MORE of them in some places than there are in others! (The mathematical proof of this is too hard for you people to understand, but trust me.)"

The parenthetical is truly obnoxious even if it is meant to be humorous.

More to the point sampling error is not that obscure, it is inversely proportional to the square of the sample size. I have not analyzed the studies of faculty politics, but the results look to me to be way too uniform to be explained by sampling errors.

You seem to conceed that the non-randomness is a signal from a process by your comment 3, which is also obnoxiously phrased.


Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 30, 2003 08:09 PM
30

"4. A lot of conservatives can't get hired because they're dumb, dumb, dumb. That's the big secret we're not supposed to talk about."

Underestimating your enemy is always a deadly mistake.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 30, 2003 08:12 PM
31

I wasn't actually talking about random lumping. Certain people will choose to gather, and gain control of certain places, and others will choose to gather, and gain control of, other places. And if most of the English departments are controlled by liberals, well, that means that liberals have had their small piddly bit of success in the world, and their one tiny stronghold. Conservatives just control everything else.

When I talked about "the mathematical proofs of this", etc., I was being funny. I know very little math.

There are smart conservatives, but they want more money and power than you can get in an English department.

I personally don't think that the liberal strategy of using the English departments as a step toward political power is worth a nickel, but the hue and cry and whining and complaining we're hearing from conservatives is fake and, as I said, vaguely sinister.

Schwartz, your threats against the university don't affect me, because I'm not in the university!! Neener neener!

Cat, I don't like academic political correctness either.

Posted by: Zizka at September 30, 2003 08:46 PM
32

My head is spinning. Are English professors tenured eltists lazing about the yacht club (as they are so often characterized on this website), or are they "small piddly" losers holding down their "tiny strongholds"? And just how tiny a stronghold is a liberalism that dominates not just great swathes of academia but also the entertainment industry, the helping professions (especially social work, psychotherapy, etc.), journalism, public secondary education, large segments of the legal profession, etc., etc.?

Posted by: Constance at September 30, 2003 11:01 PM
33

Robert,

1. It is obvious that you have no clue about what is happening in California. Trust me, it is very difficult to change a constitution, even in a dysfunctional state like mine, which governs by proposition. We liberals would love to change this silly recall provision, if we could. What I fear is that, should, heaven forbid, Schwarzenegger win, he will be facing his own recall next year. That is life in California. You can laugh at us all you want. When we destroy our state, which we are on the way to doing, the rest of you in "normal America", wherever that may be, will notice. As California goes, so goes the rest of the nation.

2. I find your threats against the academy fascinating. Conservatives are already doing their best to balance future budget deficits on the backs of the academy. Why threaten something that is already reality?

3. See you in hell, I guess.

Posted by: David at September 30, 2003 11:35 PM
34

P.S.

You know what's funny? As I said before, I've always liked listening to David Brooks.

Posted by: David at October 1, 2003 12:38 AM
35

"3. See you in hell, I guess."

Nice. Get a grip man. Go see a physician, there are medicines that can help.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 1, 2003 01:30 AM
36

A guy who recommends learning go to better understand the Iraq war is urging others to get a grip? Heh.

Posted by: Barry at October 1, 2003 08:41 AM
37

So conservatives control industry, finance, three branches of government, the military, and the police. Liberals control the universities, the high schools, the departments of welfare, and Hollywood. And it's the conservatives who are complaining?

Yes, Rush Limbaugh complains that liberals control the media, but what is Limbaugh if he's not media? The media are conservative and moderate. People who complain about liberals in the media are unhappy because every once in a long while they are forced to hear a liberal point of view. There's no liberal control. (The New York Times has one liberal, Krugman. The others are apologetic moderates who used to be liberal. Molly Ivins, Joe Conasan, Begala, Carville .... how many other vocal liberals are there out there regularly?

Liberals control only some parts of the university. Economics, foreign relations, political science, political philosophy, and law are mixed or conservative. Engineering and medicine are probably conservative. The legal profession is mixed, with trial lawyers liberal but most others not.

Being a tenured English professor is a cushy job for an individual, but as a vantage for exercising political power it's pretty worthless.


Posted by: Zizka at October 1, 2003 11:30 AM
38

"Being a tenured English professor is a cushy job for an individual, but as a vantage for exercising political power it's pretty worthless."

Distinguish between power and influence. It's true that the TEP cannot send troops into battle or spend million of dollars, but he does have significant influence over the framework of ideas within which political discourse will be conducted over the next 30 years or so. Who was it that said, "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind"?

And the TEP also has significant direct power over the careers of his students and junior associates. Probably not quite comparable to the power a corporate manager has over his employees--since the TEP can't actually fire anybody--but still not trivial.

Posted by: David Foster at October 1, 2003 12:29 PM
39

Yes, English professors do have some power over some people. So that means that there are some liberals who actually are in the managerial class! Horrors!!

"Significant influence over the framework of ideas within which political discourse will be conducted over the next 30 years or so."

Highly exaggerated, I think. But again, my point is that it's OK for liberals to have some power somewhere. If you follow the argument, the indignation is coming from people who do not want ever to hear a liberal point of view, and who do not want any liberals to have any power anywhere. A rather chilling point of view.

Who was it that said, 'Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind'?"

Probably Che Guevara or some other tragically unsuccessful dead person.

Posted by: Zizka at October 1, 2003 01:16 PM
40

Looked it up--it was Shelley.

Posted by: David Foster at October 1, 2003 01:23 PM
41

"Who was it that said, 'Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind'?"

I believe it was Shelley who said it, back in the day when people read poetry. And even then, he surely exaggerated the poet's influence. Though presumably he meant art, literature and works of imagination more broadly. Anyway, nowadays for "poet" we might substitute TV screenwriter or something similar. I'm open to persuasion on this point, but I doubt anyone can convince me that English professors exert anything like this kind of influence. They have a hard enough time persuading impressionable young minds to follow the rules of grammar and syntax, never mind exerting any real influence in the area of political ideas and political discourse.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at October 1, 2003 01:39 PM
42

And in terms of cultural influence, it's very mixed. Religious conservatives have lost influence (possibly more due to themselves than anything else). Feminism and gay liberation have accomplished a lot - some of it due to academia, much of it not due to academia.

Meanwhile the rhetoric of the market has infiltrated politics, and even into academia. And it's a very right-wing version of the market idea, with crony capitalism accepted as normal, and anything which gets in the way of squeezing most americans considered to be unamerican.

Posted by: Barry at October 1, 2003 01:51 PM
43

To make matters worse about that line from Shelley, it appears in different contexts depending on which version of the "Defense of Poetry" you're reading--there's a much longer version of the text than the one normally assigned to students. And the meaning does change a bit. In any event, Shelley's radical proposals about poetry exist on a continuum with first-generation Romantic theories about poetry's potential social value. You'd think that conservatives* would be banning this stuff from the classroom! :)

*Granted that later Wordsworth & Coleridge are the nineteenth-century equivalents of neo-cons (a somewhat, but not altogether, hyperbolic way of putting it).

Posted by: Miriam at October 1, 2003 02:22 PM
44

"*Granted that later Wordsworth & Coleridge are the nineteenth-century equivalents of neo-cons (a somewhat, but not altogether, hyperbolic way of putting it)."

Wouldn't it be less hyperbolic to say they became more conservative in a Burkean sense? which sense is very different, I would insist, from that of the neo-cons.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at October 1, 2003 03:02 PM
45

Guys, I think you have a lot more influence than you think you do. Granted, it's probably hard to believe when you're dealing with students with lukewarm interest in academics, who are heavily influenced by the media. But there's a "food chain" in ideas, which is well-captured by the old Royal Navy saying "Today's wardroom roast beef is tomorrow's lower-deck stew"--meaning that whatever the officers are talking about will probably soon be discussed by the sailors, probably in garbled form. I think this is true of abstract ideas as well.

And Miriam...why on earth would conservatives want the Romantic poets banned from the classroom?

Posted by: David Foster at October 1, 2003 04:09 PM
46

David, I was joking. (The more serious point would be that defenders of the "Western canon" as a means of somehow instilling traditional values don't always seem to process what's in that canon.)

Yes, Burkean would be a better way of putting it, although their political trajectory seems to follow the neo-con format of leftwing conviction + deconversion.

Posted by: Miriam at October 1, 2003 04:20 PM
47

David,

I think Miriam's point was that, in their own day, the Romantics were often seen as dangerous and subversive. The younger Wordsworth, for example, supported the French Revolution:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!-- Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!

Of course he changed his mind about the revolution (though some say this ruined his poetry).
We don't read that passage the same way because we no longer care about, much less fear, the French Revolution. So to some extent their work has been domesticated, because we don't (and can't) read it in the same context. It's now part of a canon of important stuff we should read (and rightly so), but it's worth noting that contemporaries saw the work differently.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at October 1, 2003 04:30 PM
48

"although their political trajectory seems to follow the neo-con format of leftwing conviction + deconversion."

Good point.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at October 1, 2003 04:45 PM
49

"A guy who recommends learning go to better understand the Iraq war is urging others to get a grip?"

The connection between the game of Go or WeiQi and the strategy of war is ancient and fairly obvious.

David's comment in 33-3 above was emotional and abusive in a way that suggests to me an underlying depression or related condition that could be sucessfully treated by use of SSRI's or other treatment modalities.

Further, it was just plain rude and I believe he owes our hostess an apology.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 1, 2003 05:06 PM
50

"We don't read that passage the same way because we no longer care about, much less fear, the French Revolution."

When Henry Kissinger traveled to China in the early 1970's to negotiate the terms upon which President Nixon would make his historic visit, he meet with Premier Chou En Lia. During a social hour Kissinger conversed with Mao's long time right hand. "So" he asked "What do you think of the French Revolution?"

Witout missing a beat Chou replied: "Too soon to say."

I would argue that the era that began with the French Revolution ended with the colapse of the Soviet Union.

But it is too soon to say that we no longer care or fear. I think that the French Revolution still shapes our intellectual world and while there are still "revolutionaries" roaming the world we still fear it. I believe that it still echoes in French polotics, but you will have to seek the details from others.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 1, 2003 05:41 PM
51

"it is very difficult to change a constitution, even in a dysfunctional state like mine, which governs by proposition. We liberals would love to change this silly recall provision, if we could."

I have not heard of anyone even trying, which causes me to be skeptical about the sincerity of the complaint.

"Conservatives are already doing their best to balance future budget deficits on the backs of the academy. Why threaten something that is already reality?"

It was not a threat. It was a prediction. I have absolutely no power to affect any public policy. Even my own children seldom act on my suggestions.

Predicting things that are already in progress is the safest way of making predicitons.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 1, 2003 05:50 PM
52

David's comment in 33-3 above was emotional and abusive in a way that suggests to me an underlying depression or related condition that could be sucessfully treated by use of SSRI's or other treatment modalities.

Further, it was just plain rude and I believe he owes our hostess an apology.

It was rather rude, but so is claiming that David is not only rude but mentally ill for disagreeing with you.

Shall we stay focused on the ideas?

Posted by: Rana at October 1, 2003 08:47 PM
53

"It was rather rude, but so is claiming that David is not only rude but mentally ill for disagreeing with you. Shall we stay focused on the ideas?"

Asking people to meet you in hell is neither a disagreement nor a reasoned argument. It is an emotional outburst. Some emotional outbursts come from rational people who become frustrated. Some are signs of underlying conditions.

I will gladly focus on ideas, even the theology of the afterlife. But I did not detect an idea in Davids comment 3 to respond to.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 1, 2003 09:49 PM
54

Actually, it seemed like a fairly calm response -- one sentence, without profanity or even exclamation points -- to what had been a certain amount of provocation. I still find it hard to believe that one's mental fitness can be determined from a single sentence like that. If you didn't find an idea to respond to, why did you bother responding at all?

ANYWAY -- what you and David think of each other personally is beside the point. Let it go, or take it to email.

One observation I made -- to return to the ideas being discussed here -- is that it seems that the liberal/conservative split among academics themselves might be following analytic/predictive tendencies in various fields. That is, the disciplines that tend conservative -- political science, sociology, many of the sciences, much of law -- are fields in which work that assays to predict or direct future action is encouraged. Those that tend liberal -- the humanities, history, lit crit -- are those which emphasize analysis and critique over prediction. (Which, as I think about it, is a little odd -- if so, then the older definitions of liberal-as-progressive and conservative-as-holding-the-status-quo don't quite work here.)

Obviously, this is an of-the-moment oversimplification, but I'd like to hear whether others have noticed the same divisions and what you think about this possible explanation.

Posted by: Rana at October 2, 2003 11:49 AM
55

"the older definitions of liberal-as-progressive and conservative-as-holding-the-status-quo don't quite work here.."

I think this actually reflects what is going on--the deeper meanings beneath the labels "liberal" and "conservative" have changed significantly. Consider, for example, the way in which many "liberals" reject any alternative to the public school system, regardless of evidence that it has failed and will ot correct itself from within.

As the old Duke of Wellington used to say, no need to make changes in "the existing system of the country"...

Posted by: David Foster at October 2, 2003 02:20 PM
56

I'd put it like this - the liberals I know in English departments -- most of whom, by the way, hold liberalism in contempt and consider themselves progressives or radicals -- but anyway, let's go with your basic distinction (lib/conserv) -- these people think, as the legal scholar Drucilla Cornell once announced to a gathering of radical academics, that "everything is shit." They have a fundamentally gloomy disposition (post '68 despair?) and consider anyone upbeat to be kitschy and self-deluded and philistine, etc. Conservatives in academia tend, as Rana suggests, toward the predictive, toward the future, because they believe there WILL be a future. And they believe there will be a future because they believe that the present is not hopelessly bad.

Posted by: Constance at October 2, 2003 04:57 PM