Fair Play for Colorado Committee

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New at Reason: Jesse Walker wonders whether there's a difference between the Centennial State's proposed "Academic Bill of Rights" and the infamous Fairness Doctrine.

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  1. BTW, I’m young. Was Horowitz this much of an ass when he opposed the Vietnam War?

  2. Dear Mr Horowitz,

    I write to you in response to your May 30, 2000 essay entitled “Ten reasons why reparations for slavery are a bad for black people – and racist too.” While I am no advocate of reparations, I do take issue with some of your remarks in “Ten reasons why…” What follows is a digest of my dissent.

    First, you claim that the slave trade was organized by “dark-skinned Arabs.” I would like to know what you mean by this statement. Who are these “dark-skinned Arabs?” Do you mean Muslims who also happen to be sub-Saharan Africans? If so, the term Arab does not apply. Further, and more importantly, it is incorrect to conclude that the slave trade – presumably you are referring exclusively to the Atlantic wing of trade – was in fact organized on the whole by any particular group. Of course West African kingdoms were involved in the slave trade, and sometimes they acquired slaves in a systematic fashion as a means to pursue various state priorities – nevertheless, it is safe to assume that the majority of those slaves who ended up on the coast awaiting transport to the New World did so via less formal networks than you seem to suggest. Please see Orlando Patterson’s Slavery and Social Death for a more in-depth discussion of these matters. Also, for what I consider a typical account of ?man-stealing? in 18th century West Africa, please see Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography, which describes his capture in some detail.

    I also find it interesting that you do not discuss the role of blacks in the Civil War; a role that would presumably only strengthen your argument. You seem to imply by this omission that blacks are wholly indebted to others for their freedom. Let me counter what you imply in this way: approximately 1 million slaves left their estates in order to seek freedom during the Civil War – despite the danger of being caught by the Confederate army – and nearly 200,000 of those escapees joined the Union army. In this sense, the Union victory was much more than a victory by one set of white troops over another set of white troops, it was also a triumphant vindication of the efforts of black people who actively worked for their own emancipation. Therefore, the Civil War was not only a contest between various sections of the United States, it was also, to paraphrase historian James Oakes, an insurrection by the slaves against the Confederate regime.

    Mr. Horowitz, you also make the argument in reason #6 that since we have so many black success stories, compensation is unjustified. Again, I find your reasoning problematic. Why? Because your argument implicitly – if perhaps unwittingly – rests on this foundation: that the Atlantic slave trade can be justified due to a development that occurred long after those slaves who came to the Americas (and their exploited offspring) were buried. I – and the philosopher Immanuel Kant – disagree. For Kant the consequences of an action are not to be taken into consideration when determining the rightness or the wrongness of an act. In other words, a moral act is performed with respect for the moral law. Further, a agent has moral worth only when he acts in this way. Thus the act itself must be good, whether it produces pleasure or pain – or in this case, whether the enslavement of Africans brought about the eventual prosperity of the distant descendants of those slaves or not.

    In reason #9 you argue that whites alone liberated blacks from slavery. As I argued above, this ignores the contributions of blacks as combatants during the war. You also claim here that there “never was an anti-slavery movement until white Englishmen and Americans created one.” This too is untrue. For example, the first nation to end their role in the slave was Denmark – which did possess slave-owning colonies in the Caribbean at the time – where a royal decree required an end to slave imports by 1803. Many Frenchmen also criticized slavery, Montesqueiu being the first major modern philosopher to openly oppose slavery. Furthermore, organizations like the Amis de Noirs – France’s version of the British Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade – urged the Estates General in 1789 to free the slaves in the colonies, and to nullify those civil disabilities against free blacks that existed in French colonial law. In 1794 – after the slave revolt in St. Domingue in 1791 and the defeat of a British army sent to re-enslave them – the Convention outlawed slavery in all French colonies, and extended citizenship rights to all men regardless of color.

    Finally, you also ignore the efforts of slaves to liberate themselves during the ante-bellum period. Some 1,000-2,000 slaves escaped bondage annually in the years leading up to the Civil War. As you can imagine, such escapes were incredible acts of bravery and daring for people who often knew very little of the world outside of their plantation. Further, black men such as Frederick Douglas – who escaped slavery himself – were also instrumental in the contest of ideas about freedom, slavery, and race that preceded the Civil War.

    Again, I am no friend of reparations for African-Americans. However, I did feel compelled to address some of the errors in your essay.

  3. I wouldn’t be surprised that if we could read the minds of faculty and administrators (including the unconscious parts that they’re not aware of themselves) who are responsible for hiring and promotions, we’d probably find a fair amount of bias towards those who share their views, which are evidently, in the aggregate purty darn left wing.

    But so what? Other than prosecuting people who admit such biases (which I’m guessing is very rare), how does one enforce nonbiased hiring and promotions without some form of quotas?

  4. joe,

    Horowitz was a member of the Black Panthers, so yes. 🙂

  5. how does one enforce nonbiased hiring and promotions without some form of quotas?

    Ask nicely? No, uh, remind them that it’s in the best interest of their business to make hiring ecisions regardless of race … whoops, wrong topic.

    Oh, forget it. It’s a rite of passage, a badge of honor, even, for conservatives to have “survived” a particularly liberal college or department.

  6. On the subject of Horowitz and reparations:

    Before Horowitz made a big deal about reparations (which, for the record, I oppose!), I’d rarely heard much mention of the subject. And I’m a news junkie, so I’m more likely to hear about it than your average person. Horowitz brought the subject out into the open. If reparations are ever passed (God forbid!), the recipients will owe a debt of gratitude to Horowitz for giving the subject more exposure.

  7. “Oh, forget it. It’s a rite of passage, a badge of honor, even, for conservatives to have “survived” a particularly liberal college or department.”

    And if those young conservatives can then pan that into a internship at ‘National Review’ or some right-wing think tank in DC – they’re on the gravy train. All fair enough but as I kept reminding them during my last pass through academia: “Just don’t expect anyone in the real world to treat you like a martyr.” I also reminded the uber-leftist of this to. (and people wondered why I hung around with the eastern europeans in grad school).

  8. horowitz is a dipshit. that said:

    i went to a private college on long island and had a few incidents of butting heads with a professor on political terms.

    the most vicious was in a rhetoric class i took (required, natch) which turned into a forum for the professor to sell her leftist notions. i got into trouble unwittingly when i debunked the super bowl sunday/beaten wife story FAIR and NOW had bandied about – i had regarded it as bad journalism (which it was) and people taking a good cause (not beating the fuck out of your spouses) and shitting on it for no discernable political gain. she screamed at me in front of the class and i was so bewildered that i didn’t even bother to file a complaint (i was a freshman). but i got an A- anyway so it didn’t really bother me much until her and an ex-girlfriend tried to get me blacklisted in the department a few years later.

    i got into trouble in a political science class for making fun of ronald reagan but me and the prof eventually kissed and made up. he was a nice guy, despite worshipping ronald reagan. (the joke in question was about how reagan worshippers – a common pasttime there amongst faculty and staff for some reason –
    had precedent since people also worshipped the shroud of turin, thus displaying the love a segment of the population have for old dirty rags)

    there were a few other incidents where arguments/discussions about drug legalization, prostitution and most strikingly the right to kill oneself were eye-poppers on occasion, but nothing came close to that first blowout.

  9. Are they going to force conservatives to teach in colleges at gunpoint?

    Having worked in Columbia U/NYSPI for 10 years, it seems to me that the only folks who come to work at this place want to help change the world and don’t mind the pittance they are paid.

    Most of my more republican leaning friends have gone on down to wall street to make some fat cash.

  10. The economics department at the University of Virginia in the late 70’s was actually quite conservative. And I had a conservative poly sci (though they call it “governmnent” there) prof who taught that factions were a good thing and there was no such thing as “the common good” and read from some black conservative who was against affirmative action (I’ve since wondered if that was Sowell). Not that all my profs were conservative by any means, but some surely were. Maybe it was a southern thing…?

  11. Although I’m a physicist, as an undergrad I minored in Economics. I never really discussed politics per se with the profs, but most of them were (obviously) very pro-market, but also very open to government regulation in regards to externalities like pollution. Most of them were skeptical of the minimum wage.

    My environmental economics professor’s biases were obvious, but he always pointed out that regulations all too often have unintended negative consequences. He also pointed out the importance of property rights in protecting the environment from short-sighted exploitation.

    So I’d say that my econ profs would flunk a dogmatic libertarian purity test (but wouldn’t any sane person flunk any dogmatic test?), but they were still far more pro-market than 99% of the Democrat and Republican elected officials.

    The one exception was my professor for macroeconomics. He was apparently famous among macroeconomists, and the entire department worshipped him. But his biases permeated his teaching, and the only way to get an A on one assignment was to argue that Bob Dole’s economic plan was foolish and Clinton’s was better. Even though I was still a liberal Democrat back then, I hated his class.

    Then again, macroeconomics always seemed like black magic anyway. So I figure that your partisan preference can be determined as follows:

    Study lots of microeconomics and you’ll start to sympathize with libertarians.

    Study enough macroeconomics and your head will become so clouded with nonsense that you’ll be a Democrat.

    And to become a Republican you should avoid studying and instead join a frat, snort coke, and go AWOL from the National Guard.

  12. republicans have more fun

  13. I thought that was blondes.

    I suppose blonde Republicans have the most fun. So that Ann Coulter must really know how to party!

  14. Isn’t it possible, thoreau, that Clinton’s plan was empirically, demonstrably better? I for one am sick of people, particularly the mainstream media, thinking that being balanced and fair means pretending you’re incapable of recognizing the difference between lies and the truth, or good work and bad.

  15. Joe-

    My professor argued, as many economists do, that the gov’t should run a surplus in good times to pay off the deficit accumulated in recessions. Fair enough. But the homework question was not framed in terms of surpluses and deficits. It was framed in terms of Dole vs. Clinton. Within the context of deficit vs. surplus, one candidate argued for keeping taxes constant but increasing spending while the other candidate argued for cutting spending and taxes.

    (I know, Republicans rarely show any fiscal discipline in practice, but they at least pay lip service to lower spending, and the issue at hand was proposals, not track records.)

    Since both candidates were proposing plans that could potentially (notice I say potentially, since the question was posed in 1996, still early in the boom) erode the surplus, arguing for either candidate required some careful thought. However, the professor focused exclusively on taxes and neglected to mention either candidate’s spending proposals. Anybody who simply discussed taxes and therefore argued in favor of Clinton had an easy A. Anybody who wanted to defend Dole would have to go into more depth and climb a steeper hill and delve into spending as well.

    (I wasn’t stupid: I took the easy road. That same semester I was taking econometrics, partial differential equations, Lagrangian mechanics, and a new research project. An intro to macroeconomics class was not a priority for me.)

    Now, as somebody who has TAed, I have no sympathy for the beleagured conservative who has to (gasp!) give a more thorough answer. But I’m disappointed that somebody who gave a less detailed answer that jibed with the professor’s biases would have an easier A.

    That said, I suspect that most Republicans would say that, in the interest of being “fair and balanced” the Dole supporters should have been held to equally low standards, which misses the whole point.

  16. Jean Bart,

    In fairness to David Horowitz, whom I utterly despise, he has denied any such interpretation of #6. He argues, not that blacks’ later standard of living justifies or compensates for the atrocities of slavery and the slave trade, but that the victims of the latter are dead and beyond compensation; whereas blacks now living are net beneficiaries of the harm done to their ancestors. He has conceded that actual slaves were entitled to reparations.

    BTW, I think it’s arguable from a Lockean or Rothbardian perspective that any land under slave cultivation in 1865, that was not since appropriated by actual admixture of labor by the owner of record, is not validly owned property, and should be subject to “homesteading.” Considering the amount of land that probably passed from planters to agribusiness companies, banks or real estate speculators, that might include a fair bit of the south.

  17. Kevin Carson,

    Well, whether he denies it or not, that is the neccessary implication of his argument. Its a bit like arguing that the Jews of today should be thankful to the Nazis for helping to create the right climate for the creation of the state of Israel.

  18. The problem with giving students the sort of “freedom” that Horowitz describes is that they generally do not merit it. Having taught at a university, I can say that for the majority of university students, especially Freshmen and Sophmores, that they are so uninformed about the subject that I teach (“Western civilization”) that any opinion they might have is a waste of my time.

  19. A grand example of the Right aping the ridiculousness of the Left.

  20. Reading the “Academic Bill of Rights,” it’s hard to figure out what it intends. I don’t see anything in it which restricts it to publicly owned institutions. Would it be illegal under the ABOR, for example, for a Christian college to refuse to hire atheists to teach theology? What are the penalties for non-compliance? As legislation, it’s as sloppily formulated as many other so-called “bills of rights.”

  21. As a Ph.D student at a large university with a very left-leaning student body, I have to say I’ve never felt persecuted.

    Now, granted, I’m in a science department. If I were in history or sociology or whatnot, maybe it wou8ld be different. But when my lab has lunch, my left-leaning professor enjoys some spirited discussion with the more conservative members of the group. When I went campaigning for a Republican candidate in the neighborhood by campus and I ran into a professor from my department, nobody started a whispering campaign against me afterwards.

    The Campus Libertarians are now defunct and have been for a few years for lack of leadership. The College Republicans here are the biggest pack of jackasses you’ll find, and I have a hunch that they enjoy it. The more obnoxious they are, the more they can complain about being persecuted by those evil leftists. By bringing to campus conservative speakers in the mold of, say, Ann Coulter, instead of more reasoned conservatives like George Will (not saying I agree with him, just that he’s a more reasonable person than Coulter), they just invite hostility and ridicule, and they revel in it.

    Anyway, although I’m sure there are politically correct abuses, by and large conservative complaints of campus persecution sound more like “I’m offended that people who don’t agree with me are always saying what they think!” How long before they borrow a page from the radical feminists and claim that even the most watered-down liberal sentiment is a form of oppresion, just as some claim that even jokes with a tiny ounce of sexual humor are oppression?

  22. Gary: To be fair to Horowitz, he says he’d prefer colleges to adopt his bill of rights on their own, which avoids the public/private problem; when his allies are pushing for it on a state level, as in Colorado, the target is just public universities.

    That said, one of Horowitz’s groups has at least once supported a lawsuit against a private university for allegedly violating a student’s First Amendment rights.

  23. Amendation: I wrote, “when his allies are pushing for it on a state level, as in Colorado, the target is just public universities.” I should have added, “so far.”

  24. “The group’s university “case studies” offer very few examples of conservative students or instructors being penalized for their views, preferring mostly to grouse that leftist views are present on campus in the first place.”

    When I was in school, a group of righties got a lot of press by labelling themselves the Politically Incorrect Student Society, and complaining about oppression by the heinously left wing faculty of GWU. One of them made national news by posing next to a statue of George, which he had decorated by placing a gag labelled “PC” over the statue’s mouth.

    Their biggest complaint was that the Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual alliance received exactly the same funding as every other campus social group. They weren’t complaining that a certain group of students was being discriminated against because of their politics; they were complaining that a certain group of students WASN’T being discriminated against because of their politics. But the photo ran on one of the newswires, and the university got labelled at a PC hellhole for a while.

    By the way, most of the PISSers were also members of YAF.

  25. joe is right, the leftwing “bias” is just another right-wing lie. Just ask any leftwinger on campus (especially the professors).

  26. Another problem with Horowitz is that he tends to over-play his hand; he was right, for example, to argue against reparations for slavery, but his arguments against it did far more damage than his campaign was worth. This is largely due to his willingness to trade in historical half-truths and outright lies.

  27. >> This is largely due to his willingness to trade in historical half-truths and outright lies.

    I blame his upbringing.

  28. Good column Jesse

  29. anon, please return the strawman in the same condition you found it.

  30. Thoreau,

    Having attended and taught at several universities in my life, I’ve yet to meet a clear case of “academic bias” in the way Horowitz means the term – that a student’s grade was marked down due to a view he held, for example. To be frank, I’ve got my biases, but they tend to involve things like whether I favor Catholic League and its efforts to overthrow the French crown and undermine French freedom or not. 🙂 As I’ve framed the statement, you likely can discern my bias.

  31. If I can find it I’ll post my point by point refutation of Horowitz’s reparations handout.

  32. Samwise,

    In talking about attempts to push emotional buttons, you serve up a fine example.

  33. certainly not thankful, but it’s true in more than one sense. the nazis were encouraging emigration to palestine for a while until they pulled their now-famous “fuck you and die” plan out.

  34. Horowitz is an emotional button pusher. Face it, he is just speaking the language of the Left. If it sounds wrong to our ears, it is because we tend to argue in rational, logical fashion.

    If Kevin tried to explain why reparations are wrong the way he did, I doubt many Leftists would understand it. In fact they would probably just throw it in his face and call him a name. It is feelings and strength of conviction that counts in that world.

    DH’s arguments are probably rationally and historically wrong. But it doesn’t matter, as those he is targeting don’t really care about reasonable or historical arguments anyway. If he yells lounder and acts like he really really cares they will listen.

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