Academia

Lowdown Conservative Academia Shutout Blues

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The Chronicle of Higher Education weighs in with an interesting, but somewhat muddled, version of that old song: "Low Down Conservative Academia Shutout Blues." Yeah, ev'rybody's talking 'bout Foucault, religious right, corporate whores, needless wars, but all Mark Bauerlein is saying is, Give Hayek A Chance.

The biggest muddle, in a piece complaining that academic and popular books assessing conservatism don't treat it as a coherent intellectual tradition, is his casual linking of disparate thinkers, thus: "Count the names Hayek, Russell Kirk, Irving Kristol, etc., on syllabi in courses on "Culture & Society." Tally how often, in left-of-center periodicals, those names are linked to moneyed interests. The framing is complete. Heralds of conservatism start and finish in the messy realm of politics and finance, never rising into the temple of reflection."

The complaint about the association of conservative and free-market thinking with moneyed interests is apt. That Hayek, a classic 19th century liberal and apostle of the knowledge-spreading and dynamic powers of free markets and the unrestricted price system, Kirk with his tradition-rooted mistrust of untrammeled capitalism, and Kristol's bellicose nationalism and love of censorship can be so casually conflated is a sign that even at the highest levels, academic understanding of conservative is deficient.

This is not to say there are no interesting ways in which the three can be compared; Hayek shared with Kirk an interest in the defense of rooted tradition that cannot necessarily be rationally justified, and with Kristol an interest in dynamic economic growth, but the differences between all three are more important than the similarities, and merely linking those three together does not a defensible and coherent intelellectual tendency make. The main reason for this, as Hayek pre-emptively told Bauerlein and all the rest of us over four decades ago, is that Hayek is "not a conservative ."

Indeed, as Hayek wrote, in language that sounds quite a bit like the unnamed and innumerable liberal professors who keep conservativism from a position of respect in the academy, "conservatism fears new ideas because it has no distinctive principles of its own to oppose them; and, by its distrust of theory and its lack of imagination concerning anything except that which experience has already proved, it deprives itself of the weapons needed in the struggle of ideas. Unlike liberalism, with its fundamental belief in the long-range power of ideas, conservatism is bound by the stock of ideas inherited at a given time. And since it does not really believe in the power of argument, its last resort is generally a claim to superior wisdom, based on some self-arrogated superior quality."

Of course, in large part thanks to the influence of libertarians such as Hayek and Milton Friedman on conservatism as popularly understood, the conservative of today is far more respectful of liberty and markets overall than was the conservatism of the 1950s that Hayek wrote about here. Still, it won't help further academic understanding and appreciation of either Hayek or conservatism to lump them together as Bauerlein does.

UPDATE: I misspelled the name of the author of the linked story in my original post (now fixed).
Reason's editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie had earlier discussed Bauerlein's calls for "a little less Foucault and a little more Hayek" in his report on the 2005 Modern Language Association meetings at TechCentral Station; and readers should also check out a great essay Bauerlein wrote for Reason, reviewing the Anti-Chomsky Reader (edited by Peter Collier and David Horowitz) in our April 2005 issue

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  1. “the differences between all three are more important than the similarities”

    I would challenge this statement. You could argue that all three thinkers contend for a “human nature” resistant to utopian engineering. And all three thinkers introduce a skepticism that frees the intellect in a similar way. And to get major thinkers of this stripe in some kind of omnibus course is as much (and rather more) than most undergraduates are apt to get.

  2. Two possibilities for conservatism: either it is a loose, arbitrary bundling that holds together in a path-dependent manner, clustered by personal foibles or who-knows-what; or the libertarian’s understanding of it is incorrect, and it really does have one or a few unifying principles — and so those who call Hayek “conservative” are right, and Hayek wrong on that score. I’m not sure, but I suspect it’s somewhere in between.

  3. good effort rob,
    we get 2 choices
    and the answer is
    both

  4. the conservative of today is far more respectful of liberty and markets

    Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. etc…

  5. The problem with labels is different people have different ideas of what they mean.

  6. Am I the only person here who sees the name “Hayek” and thinks of that great philosopher, Salma?

    Oh.. and oldnumberseven is exactly correct.

  7. None of this matters. The best and brightest in today’s universities are either in the engineering school, business school, or are so intensely pre-medical that they don’t pay attention to what’s going on around them. Liberal arts education is unthinkingly leftist, but only losers major in the liberal arts nowadays. People usually aim high in freshman year, then begin migrating to english, history, psych, etc. when their GPA hits the fan. Many end up in law school, which increases their employment prospects marginally but also adds massive debt. I remember that while at school (UIUC) people in LAS (Liberal Arts and Sciences) were openly mocked for their foolishness.

  8. Ok, I’ll bite. What are the few unifying principles underlying conservatism? Are they anything like what Andrew said? I don’t know what “human nature is resistant to utopian engineering” means. You’ll have to elaborate on that. I’m even more clueless about the second one: “all three thinkers introduce a skepticism that frees the intellect in a similar way.” Is this like skepticism of liberal ideas? So conservatism is being defined as a skeptical position regarding liberalism?

  9. Morlock, have we met? I think you just wrote my biography:)

    Here’s the problem as I see it. I don’t recall an institutional bias against conservatism at college, though most of the professors were liberal. I think Bauerline misses an essential point: Universities are places of rationalism. Encoded deep in the University’s DNA is a desire to search for truth. Arguments from authority, tradition, myth, etc. are accordingly not welcome. For many academic liberals, this is the sum total of what conservatives have to offer. This is Unfortunate, because I think one could make the argument.

    I think YK has has a point. in the university, conservatism has no intrinsic meaning. It is defined simply as a skeptical critique of liberalism. Modern universities have thus inverted the nature of conservatism and liberalism: Liberalism should be the skeptical ideology, conservatism the default.

    OK, it’s 3:00 in the morning and I don’t know if this makes any sense. I’m hitting the rack.

  10. oldnumberseven and rwellor,

    Sorry, but you missed the important part of the quote…

    the conservative of today is far more respectful of liberty and markets overall than was the conservatism of the 1950s

    …so, you’re both precisely wrong. The conservatives of the 1950s were barely a half-step ahead of the conservatives whose monetary policies drove the electorate into the arms of the Rooseveltian socialists. The conservatives of the 1950s were the ones who perpetuated the myth that Hitler made the trains run on time. The only economic policy differences between them and the progressives lied in what constituency that regulation and central planning should serve.

    I can only guess that you were assuming that the quote was implying “the conservatism of the 1980s.”

  11. Yong Kim,

    Yes, I think that all he is saying, albeit in a colorful way, is that they were all effectively anti-socialist. They only shared enemies, not principles.

  12. I work in academe, and you do meet a few libertarians. This is because they tend to be very principled, having a coherent worldview and they stick to it. The reason a lot of “conservative” thought is dismissed is because conservatism has become synonymous with political apology, thanks to hacks like the current editors of National Review and the Washington Times and think tanks like AEI and Heritage, not to mention talk radio. There is no longer an attempt to carve out a principled coherent conservative worldview, as Kirk engaged in. Instead conservative “thinkers” engage in the Buckleyian mantra of “electing (or supporting) the most conservative electable candidate.” Look at the difference between Cato, which criticizes both parties when they violate their libertarian principles, and AEI or NRO. That’s why conservatives are not taken seriously, and shouldn’t be.
    There is another reason. Conservative scholars are more into “reverring” certain figures than engaging in critical scholarship. Take a look at the Claremont Institute. They do some interesting work, but they would never allow themselves to say “look, Strauss (or Jaffa) were great thinkers, but they were plainly wrong on [fill in the blank].” Not even Marxists are such blind followers (in fact, Marxists have constantly “reworked” Marx). They become apologists for these figures, schools of thought, and certain tenents (this is probably why otherwise reasonable conservatives try to defend things like intelligent design or decry ‘scientism’, because it is one of the Tenents Not to be Questioned but Defended handed down from whatever prophet (Strauss, Vogelin, etc) they follow).
    In the end perhaps there cannot be a “conservative scholarship.” To the extent that is was scholarly it would have to be willing to abandon conservative political positions when empirical reality does not bear out the premises upon which such positions are warranted…

  13. the myth that Hitler made the trains run on time

    The one thing Hitler probably couldn’t have done was dislodge the Germans from punctuality, which transplant was rejected by the Italians’ immune system:

    http://www.snopes.com/history/govern/trains.htm

    Just sayin’.

  14. Ken,

    Great post.

  15. Encoded deep in the University’s DNA is a desire to search for truth. Arguments from authority, tradition, myth, etc. are accordingly not welcome..

    This sounds good, until you realize that the University is jammed full of magical thinking and people clinging to outmoded and disproven ideologies.

  16. Morlock-
    Not only do you have a myopic view of education (liberal artz is teh SuXX0r) but from my personal experience this tripe about academia being filled with socialists is just flat out wrong. Yes, I’ve had liberal professors, but I’ve also had many conservative professors. Though they are more the libertarian type than the Jerry Falwell type, I didn’t go to Liberty University for a reason.

  17. Encoded deep in the University’s DNA is a desire to search for truth. Arguments from authority, tradition, myth, etc. are accordingly not welcome..

    Except that academics in fields like economics and evolutionary biology have to leave open the possibility that “that’s the way it’s always been” reflects some deeper truth. Markets can be good at processing information, evolution is good at finding efficient (not perfect, but often efficient) solutions to problems, and a game-theoretic approach to many social science issues forces one to consider the possibility that a traditional arrangement reflects some kind of equilibrium response to various forces.

    Now, a scholar shouldn’t just accept that “that’s the way it is” and move on, but a scholar might take that observation, which to a large extent appeals to tradition, and use it as an insight to begin an inquiry.

  18. I think that Ken makes a good point in that much of what passes for scholarship in current conservative circles has become Republican apologetics, and what little good thought there is gets drowned out by partisan shilling.

  19. Would like to ask people here of their experiences of US liberal arts programs–how bad are they? I have to say I have absolutely no effective baseline, because a) most of the courses I had in that area in the US were language courses, which doesn’t allow you to saunter off into loosey-goosey theoretical land (either you can talk to the natives or you can’t.)

    My other experience has been an M.A. course in England, which was definitely hard-nosed: if you were going to work in renaissance philosophy, you weren’t even let in the door unless you had a good reading knowledge of Latin and one other non-English european language. At that level you are expected to be working from primary sources, including diving into the archives and deciphering hand-written secretarial notes from the 14th century in Venetian dialect…. We were also expected to have as background a good knowledge of Greek and Roman culture, history, and philosophy. (There was a reading list of about 40 books to go through the summer before the program started–several in medieval and modern Italian.)

    The hardest part of the entire program, for me, was to learn how to write essays in the “English style”. By comparison, U.S. essay writing is like writing Cliff’s Notes. Am still pretty proud that I got through the MA program.

  20. The sad thing is that Mark Bauerline thinks that Russell Kirk and Irving Kristol belong on anyone’s reading list. Yeah, it’s true that college reading lists today are clotted with third- and fourth-rate left-wing “thinkers,” but Kirk and Kristol are no better.

  21. American Conservatism may not have a coherent worldview, but neither does American Liberalism.

    Strangely, I found university to be quite conservative and repressive. I found freedom of speech to be far more respected at every job I’ve had than at the schools I attended.

    When Hayek said that he was not a conservative, isn’t it possible that he was referring to European Conservatism, which was pro-monarchy? American Conservatism and European Conservatism are two different beasts.

  22. This is one of my favorite academic horror stories;
    This past semster a girl I knew was doing her final and called me up asking for what she should write for why materialism is a bad thing. I personally thought that materialism was a good thing and I she wrote down her opinions. She then turned in the paper and, when the teacher saw what she wrote he demanded that she walk up to the class, read the entire paper outloud, and instructed the rest of the class to tell her why she is wrong. In the end, she told him that it was only her opinion he shot back to her “who here has the doctorates degree?”

  23. Would like to ask people here of their experiences of US liberal arts programs–how bad are they?

    I took my humanities classes at Community College. One of the professors was a Catholic and asked in a philosophy (!) class if evolution was true, why are their still monkeys?

    I had another lady who taught humanities and believed in reincarnation and claimed to be an energy healer.

    And now I go to the University of Colorado and there’s this guy named Ward Churchill who called the 9/11 victims little Eichmans and hangs out with some Indian holy man who put a curse on the college Republicans. And Churchill recently won a teaching award voted on by the students.

    Does that answer your question?

  24. Jonathan, that professor should get in serious, serious trouble. It’s tough to go after a tenured professor, but not impossible. If an oral presentation to the class was not part of the original assignment then he had no business tacking it on selectively as a mechanism for simple humiliation.

    If he’s tenured, he can still get it in trouble. It isn’t easy, especially if this is the first complaint filed, but somebody should still go to his department chair or dean. If there’s a pattern, it will eventually bite him in the ass.

    But, just to be fair, it’s not entirely clear to me that your friend did the right thing in writing an off-topic essay. A well-educated person should be able to articulate the arguments in favor of a position, regardless of whether or not she agrees. If the class has been studying materialism, then she should be able to explain what the most powerful critiques are, even if she personally thinks materialism is good.

    None of this is to defend the professor. That sort of public humiliation is completely unacceptable. I’m just saying that it isn’t a good idea to reject the terms of the assignment and do something else. If you’re assigned to write an essay on a topic, you should be able to articulate what the ideas are, even if you personally disagree. That’s the point of education.

  25. Grumpy: I had some tough classes, such as a seminar on Early Shakespeare plays, economic history of the U.S (which required more than a passing familiarity with economic principles), modern Japan, Colonial Africa, etc. I got a 90% on a paper in the Shakespeare class-and believe me, I was happy to get it.

    As you might expect, I had some easy classes too.

    I think a good deal of the responsibility of getting an education lies with the student. Certainly, a high quality faculty and smart peers helps, but ultimately, one has to be willing to dig into the material. If one’s willing, the education is there.

  26. How can anyone believe that materialism (or anything else!) is entirely good or bad?

    When assigned a topic for an essay in a liberal arts course (which are mostly subjective), always give the prof exactly what they want, even if you disagree. You can do a shitty job and get a good grade. Also, you will get a good chuckle out of it. Before I learned this lesson, I’d work my ass off for a B. After I learned my lesson, I’d knock out my essays before class and get an A or A-.

  27. Both I and her parents (seperatly) tried really hard to convince her to bring some type of punishment against the teacher, but she didn’t want to hurt him. (She said he was in a bad mood that day, like that has any diffrence)

    Somewhat ironicly, she ended up getting an “A” on the paper, although that is completely in-character for a lot of similar teachers I have had over the years. They patronizie you and try to seem open minded by saying they respect your opinion, and then go right along with saying that anyone who believes a slightly to the right POV is evil/and idiot.

  28. “I think a good deal of the responsibility of getting an education lies with the student. Certainly, a high quality faculty and smart peers helps, but ultimately, one has to be willing to dig into the material. If one’s willing, the education is there.”

    agreed, but that’s not the way modern academia is going. the school is a business and the students are customers. the students think they are buying a degree, not access to an education. administration agrees with the students.

  29. Jonathan,

    I’ll agree that the prof was a dick, but it seems you are too for thinking materialism’s a “good thing.” Here’s the definitions of “materialism” from dictionary.com

    “a desire for wealth and material possessions with little interest in ethical or spiritual matters ”

    “The theory or attitude that physical well-being and worldly possessions constitute the greatest good and highest value in life.”

    If your definition is different, please explain. If not… well, you wouldn’t be much different from many of the shitbags that post here.

  30. In my definition I kind of turnicated the “little intrest in ethical or spiritual matters” part of the equation. Basicly, I feel that finding happiness in buying a new iPod/shopping at Walmart/amassing a large comic book collection is nothing to feel guilty about by its self, and is neccecary for human development. Being Uncle Scrooge, on the other hand, is an entirely diffrent story.

  31. Do I have to tell the story of my socialist Journalism professor… again…?

  32. I’d like to hear it. Self rightous indingation is the only thing that drives me in life.

  33. Oh, I do remember a female friend complaining about one of her law professors, who somehow had managed to combine “feminine logic” together with “law” and come up with a non-null set. My friend who has a bachelor’s in Material Science from a certain well-known institute and does NOT suffer fools gladly, took pleasure one fine afternoon during a tutoring session to totally demolish (using logic) the professor’s arguements about “feminine law” down to zilch.

    Soi-disant “feminists” who rail on about there being “feminine” logic and “masculine” logic and how scienceandengineering is a horribly patriarchical example of the latter just drive women in technical fields wacko. There may be horribly sexists professors–that does not make the knowledge base sexist. The molecule doesn’t give a damn. Nor does that bridge.

  34. In my undergraduate experience, the fields of ‘last resort’ were education and communications. I’m still not sure what communications was; I think a catch all for stuff like advertising and public relations. If you absolutely couldn’t make it anywhere else, education or communications.

    My graduate experience with LA folks was bad. Nearly anything that could be considered a real science at my graduate university came with a full tuition waiver and a substantial stipend, including health insurance (paid for by grants of course). The amount of the stipend varied (I made 25K/yr) and the health insurance was department optional in that the given department paid. The LA folks were uninsured and paid their own tuition. They put together a union and forced the Graduate School into providing insurance. Those departments that provided insurance were forced to participate in the Graduate School’s group plan. My old plan wasn’t great, but the new plan was terrible. Effectively a pay cut. Jerks.

    But I take satisfaction knowing the rest of their lives will be like this; wondering why they don’t get paid what they believe they deserve.

  35. Morlock,

    I happen to be a grad student in LAS at UIUC, albeit more on the S side (Chemistry), so I take some offense at that. Though I can’t, for the life of me, understand why the liberal arts and the physical sciences are lumped together in so many schools. Most likely, it’s just based on old precedent that noone bothered to change. But your post does cement the long-held view of many scientists that a lot of engineers are douches because they get paid a lot after school, and that gives them the idea that the work they do in school and post-bac is somehow more important than everyone else’s. Then they let it get to their heads. It’s fine as long as you don’t have to interact with them, but since I do… well. At least they’re not as irritating as pre-meds.

    There is one important component of liberal arts education, and that is developing writing skills. Science and engineering programs simply don’t focus on scientific and technical writing as much as they should. Thus, I would argue that the majority of science and engineering majors out there have writing skills that I would describe as “poopy.” I don’t think you need to analyze Shakespeare, but chances are that if you can analyze Shakespeare and prepare a well-organized, thought-out thesis, you’ll at least be able to write coherent scientific papers. I would like to see more of an emphasis on scientific writing in undergrad education, but I think most science faculty don’t trust people in the liberal arts to do it, and are unwilling to do it themselves. I TA’d a senior-level chemistry class this semester. The quality of reports in general would have made an English major vomit.

  36. There is one important component of liberal arts education, and that is developing writing skills. Science and engineering programs simply don’t focus on scientific and technical writing as much as they should.

    AMEN!!!!

    The best thing that my university did for me as an undergrad was force me to type long reports every week for freshman chemistry, and grade me on my writing as well as my results. When I got my first adjunct faculty job I got into an argument with a colleague who felt that I shouldn’t grade based on writing. I said that I’m trying to prepare my students for bosses who might actually expect them to produce something readable from time to time. Thankfully my supervisors backed me up.

  37. That makes me feel a lost better about my non science major undergrad students’ poor writing in papers for the science courses I teach them.

    Deja Google “term paper follies” in alt.fan.cecil-adams for my compilations of their gaffes. I just had a fresh bunch, but you can look back years. Also “book report follies”, “exam follies”, and “homework follies”. Plus “term paper plagiarism follies”.

  38. MIT used to have a science writing requirement. I think they got rid of it because the students bitched about the uselessness of it.

    Areas I’ve found major difference in between the US and the UK: Art History, for example. Art history or “media communications” seem to be one of the standard majors sorority girls at UIUC ended up in–shall we say, not very demanding? One of my experiences was as a grad student getting asked to fill out a very badly designed survey by someone in media communications, supposedly for research for an M.A. thesis. I covered the form with red ink and sent it back to the student, suggesting she first read some books on statistical measurements before trying to write a survey.

    By comparison, the Art History M.A. program at the Courtwald Institute in London was about as bloody-minded as what I went through–we had quite a few of their students showing up for the Italian paleography classes. Trying to decipher scrawls from the archives will do that to you. (Story–some of the archives in Italy are still kept with the rest of the “civil documents.” My iconography prof. had a very funny tale about going to get copies of some 16th century stuff from a city hall and running into a lot of panic on the part of the copiers….ohmigod the documents are in Latin! When he finally finished laughing he reassured them that there would be no problem at all…)

  39. “Mr. Dawkins is considered to be a well known philosopher and
    popularizer in the theory of Evolution and which he has written other
    outstanding books in the past. However the `River Out of Eden’ is a
    very interesting book that I have read in all of the other Science
    fields.”

    I’ve been guilty of writing like that. It usually stems from the fact that I need to write 30 words when I only have 10.

  40. MIT used to have a science writing requirement. I think they got rid of it because the students bitched about the uselessness of it.

    Probably because there’s often a big difference betweenwhat you can teach a person in a class and what a person needs to know. The best way to become good at science writing is to write lots of reports about your work and get critiqued ruthlessly on it. And keep repeating that.

    I’m skeptical of how well it can be taught, certainly the one science writing elective that I took wasn’t exactly the best course I’d taken in college.

    Short assignments on science writing are probably useless. A paragraph that seems to be well-written can still be useless or misleading when put in the context of the larger report. Also, writing about an improvised example is not the same as writing about something that you’ve really delved into.

    Also, there’s a problem of training. A science or engineering grad student early in his or her training probably hasn’t had the requisite experience to TA a science writing course. Hell, even a lot of science and engineering professors can write pretty poorly. OTOH, while MIT does have high quality social science programs, with grad students who are probably better at writing than your typical science or engineering grad student, these students are probably ill-equipped to handle technical writing.

    Then there’s the issue of the medium: Research articles, review articles, textbooks, grant proposals, internal progress reports for work, and popular science articles all require different writing styles.

    So I’m not surprised that efforts to teach science writing in a formal setting were less than successful.

    It’s probably better to integrate writing into the curriculum rather than teach it as a separate course. I certainly believe in assigning lab reports, as well as final papers in which the student has to research a subject on his or her own rather than simply solve the problems that I pose.

  41. i’ve seen some crazy shit here and there, but for the most part conservatives are crybabies on this issue and need to man the fuck up asap before we all get diaper rash.

    ohh ohh someone called me a name! ooh oooh. having a professor yell at you for something stupid is like watching a cop take a bribe or getting molested by a priest – it helps you learn that no one is to be trusted.

    ps comm school 4 lyfe. eat a dizzle my libernizzles.

  42. i’ve seen some crazy shit here and there, but for the most part conservatives are crybabies on this issue and need to man the fuck up asap before we all get diaper rash.

    Yep. There is some crazy shit, but it seems like a lot of the cases that attention turn out to involve either a crybaby who blew it out of proportion or a jackass who wanted attention (or both).

    David Horowitz’s dog and pony show on reparations was an excellent case in point. He selected his audience carefully, honed his rhetoric to push buttons, did a speaking tour (collecting fees from the College Republicans and Young America Foundation), and then wrote a book about it. He put together a spectacle, every detail calculated to push a button and provoke a response, then he used this deliberately elicited response to make some bigger point about academia.

    “Look, there are people whose buttons can be pushed! They react badly when I do it! We must change academia to make sure this never happens again!”

  43. BTW, I frankly disagree with a lot of my colleagues on matters of politics, but I’ve never run into any trouble over it. If I wanted to I could blow minor disagreements out of proportion, claim victim status, and go on a speaking tour funded by some right-wing group.

    The problem is that I don’t have the talents of a con man. If I did, I’d gladly separate gullible conservatives from their money. But I’d go all the way, pose as a creationist, offer some BS critique of evolution, and hit up the fundie churches as well as the people with axes to grind against academia. “Look at me, the ivory tower elite are oppressing me by rejecting my views!”

    Then I’d do a David Brock and write a book called “Man, those conservatives sure are gullible!”

  44. A.) Libertarian Conservatives:
    Sceptics of “Planning” and Coerced “Altruisms”

    Adam Smith – The Theory of Moral Sentiments

    John Stuart Mill – On Liberty

    F. Hayek – The Constitution of Liberty

    B.) Majoritarian Conservatives:
    Sceptics of Unaccountable “Expertise”

    Edmund Burke (almost anything)

    David Hume – Political Essays (ALL of them)

    De Toqueville – Democracy In America

    C.) Theological Conservatives:
    Sceptics of Secularism

    Hillaire Belloc (almost anything)

    G. K. Chesterson (almost anything)

    probably some things by C. S. Lewis, Christopher Dawson, Mortimer Adler or Joseph Pfieffer?others.

    D.) Reactionary Conservatives:
    Sceptics of Modernity

    Chateaubriand – The Genius of Christianity

    Joseph de Maistre (everything)

    T. S. Eliot – The Sacred Wood

    E.) Cynics and Elitists:
    Sceptics of Popular Democracy

    Machiavelli – The Prince

    Thomas Hobbes – Leviathan

    some things by Mosca and Pareto

    F.) Pessimists and Irrationalists:
    Sceptics of Reason and Progress

    some Schopenauer and Nietzsche

    probably some Spengler and Santayana

    Julian Sorel – Reflections on Violence
    could have some fun with Julius Evola

    Six categories – radically different from A to F?but each of the neighbors overlaps. ALL would be opposed to the radical environmentalism and presumed egalitarianism adhered to by the Left as unexamined dogmas.

    Anyone who says these authors aren’t worthy of consideration in the liberal arts curriculum as deficient on either intellectual heft, or style, is talking ballocks.

  45. andy:

    You forgot this definition:

    1a: a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter.

    Making the argument for or against materialism is a standard exercise in many philosophy or theology courses.

    Here’s what my alma mater demands of those enrolled in Arts and Sciences:

    All candidates for a bachelor of arts degree in the College of Arts and Sciences must complete the following requirements in the core curriculum:

    Credit Hours (Most 1-semester courses are 3 credits)

    English Composition (6)
    Foreign Language (0 – 14)
    History (Western Civilization) (6)
    Social-Behavioral Science (6)
    Literature/Fine Arts (8 – 9)
    Mathematics – Logic – Computer (6)
    Natural Science (6 – 8)
    Philosophy (12)
    Theology (9)

    These “distribution requirements” are essentially unchanged from what was in force when I matriculated in the mid-1970s. Computer Science was added to the Math/Logic choices sometime in the 80s, I believe. The amount of foreign language required depended on how much one had in high school. Frex, I had Spanish 1 and 2 in grades 11 and 12, and took 2 more semesters in college. Freshmen were required to take a foreign language placement test, in any case, and some found themselves repeating work they had forgotten. Those who had a full 4-year course before arriving on campus, and who “tested out” were required to take a literature course in their particular language to fulfill their requirement.

    The Math/Logic and Philosophy requirements typically meant that a new student would take 1 or 2 math courses, a semester or two of logic, a required lower division PHIL survey course, a required upper division Ethics course, and an upper division PHIL elective. The THEO requirement was one lower division, 2 upper.

    Total credits needed for a degree was 128. I hit that on the nose, with 2 majors at 30 credits apiece, in History and Political Science. I had room for a few electives: a couple of ECON courses, two semesters of statistics and COMP SCI, a Sociology survey course, etc.

    As a Poli Sci student, I often ran into profs with obvious partisan sympathies. Of course, they mean less when you are studying Plato, Aristotle or Machiavelli in Political Philosophy than if you are taking a course on current public policy questions. One could certainly catch subtext in History, vis a vis Marxist or marxian assumptions, or even the dreaded Whig Narrative many reading here would sympathize with. We had some decent faculty though, who could separate their partisanship from their teaching. One of my favorites taught ancient Political Philosophy, a requirement for PS majors. While a very “liberal” guy, he went out of his way to help me arrange a campus visit by David Bergland during his Presidential bid. He accurately predicted, while teaching Plato’s Gorgias, that I would judge the political scientist Woodrow Wilson as our worst President. He pointed out to the class that, given my principles, I was right to do so.

    I went to a Jesuit school. I had a long gap between my third and final theology class, in which time I had given up on the whole god thing. My last choice from the THEO catalog was “Modern Atheism and Theism.” It was taught by an S.J., and though I never once spoke or wrote anything that could be construed as agreement that any gods existed, I received a top mark.

    Everyone’s experience will be different, and it is possible that those who chose academe as a career path in the 1960s and 1970s have so entrenched themselves in positions of influence that tolerance for non-socialist, non-identity-group positions may, in fact, be low. My school has had some conservative v. “liberal” flaps, but that tends to be adminstrators and students getting into disagreements about matters taking place outside of the classroom or lab.

    What baffles me is why those who want to fight an ideological party line in the universities don’t raise some money and build there own dream campuses. Most of our private universities were founded by religious denominations who wanted to train clergy and spread their versions of their faiths. Changing the giant State Us is probably a lost cause. Rather than trying to set those battleships on a new heading, why not build some new frigates? At least stop donating huge blocks of cash to the government outfits!

    Kevin

  46. Would like to ask people here of their experiences of US liberal arts programs–how bad are they?

    Depends. I’ve gone to two colleges here in Knoxville. At the community college I went to while waiting to get back into UT I took several philosophy classes. One of them was called “God and Evil,” taught by a retired professor of philosophy who had previously taught at Ivy League universities, examining the problem of evil from a variety of different perspectives. Taking philosophy classes there convinced me that philosophy would be a good major (choosing a major has been hard for me, because almost everything looks interesting to me).

    So when I got back to UT, I took several philosophy classes. One, Ancient Western Philosophy, was very good. The other, Philosophy of Literature, was absolute crap. Basically, we were expected to use our book to critique several different books we’d read over the course of the semester. Unfortunately, the book was completely devoid of any semantic content. It espoused the worst sort of post-modern bullshit. At one point, it pointed out that the text was everything, and nothing about the author or his historical context mattered. Unless the author was female or a minority; then it was acceptable to bring who the author was into the discussion. It had a chapter on “The Queer” in literature, which contained the phrase “when we query (queer-y?) ourselves”. My favorite was the chapter on colonization, where they explained that one could not even talk about colonization in English without realizing that English itself had been colonized by Latin — which is to say, they pointed out, that Latin had been colonized by English. ‘Cause when you colonize something, man, you’re like colonized yourself. The whole thing had this air of taking itself very seriously, making vaguely deep-sounding statements, but nothing in the book had any actual semantic content. Even less did it have any sort of tools that you could use to actually analyze literature, which was the entire point of the class. Complete waste of time. Our first exam was to analyze the book we’d read (in my case, The Postman Always Rings Twice) according to the three chapters of the textbook we’d read. After staring at the screen of the computer we were using for the test for an hour, I gave it up for a lost cause and dropped the class.

    I’ve had some other bad experiences with humanities classes. I’ve also had some excellent experiences with them. Overall, I’d say that there is more of the crap than there should be in academia; tenure allows bad professors to require their students to regurgitate their views back to them (like in a class on rhetoric and writing I had, which basically consisted of us parroting back to the professor her progressive views on everything). And the humanities departments have succeeded in requiring every student to take at least some of their classes; at UT, the upper division distribution requirement for US Studies may as well be called “why white men suck.” Luckily, now that I’ve decided on computer science as a major, I have to deal with this crap as little as possible.

  47. Andrew,

    So basically you’re saying there are no unifying principles of conservatism. But just disparate groups where anyone who’s skeptical of some aspect of liberalism is considered a conservative. I guess by that same method, anyone who’s skeptical of some aspect of conservatism could be considered a liberal, including a lot of those same people you mention. If so, it seems like a self-defeating method. I must say that I’ve never thought of, or heard of, some of those people as conservatives. Like Mill, Hume, Hobbes, Shopenhauer, and Nietzsche. I’m even more baffled why some of those skepticism is “anti-liberal” or “pro-conservative.” Nietzsche, for example, is a moral nihilist (or moral anti-realist), meaning, he doesn’t believe in morality, doesn’t believe there are right or wrong acts. How could this entail a conservative position? No, you don’t have to answer that, I’m not really that interested in scholarly debate (in fact whether it’s possible to interpret Nietzsche correctly is itself a highly controversial question). I’m just curious where you got the idea that all these guys are conservative. Is it something you came to conclude after studying them or were they included in some class as examples of conservative thought? My memory might be fading, but I’m pretty sure it was Mill who called the conservative party the “stupid party.” Pretty astonishing, then, to find him part of a stupid party. Hobbes believed in social contracts, which is an interesting idea, but it’s hard to see how this lends itself to conservative or liberal ideas.

    Maybe you include them just because you can find SOME conservative thinking going on. Well, then we could call Hillary a conservative too; I’m sure she has SOME conservative ideas.

  48. The whole “scientists and engineers are bad writers” thing is overplayed. Most of my day is spent reading the putative bad writing. Sure, bad writing can be tiresome. But most of my time with manuscripts is spent puzzling out the equations and looking through tables and graphs (hard to “write” a bad table). Far more tiresome than poor writing is the dryness of it all. Christ, makes some jokes, say something stupid or silly. Anyway, as long as the point is clear, grammar, spelling, and polish are superfluous.

    There’s this other interesting meme about foreign nationals often writing better than native speakers. Perhaps people are trying to be generous or progressive. But it’s not my experience at all. My lab requires native speakers proof every manuscript before it gets sent to the boss. Most need a great deal of work. And this, while the shortage of American applicants to science and engineering graduate programs drops. Universities are being forced to loosen their language requirements.

  49. I’ve had some other bad experiences with humanities classes. I’ve also had some excellent experiences with them. Overall, I’d say that there is more of the crap than there should be in academia; tenure allows bad professors to require their students to regurgitate their views back to them (like in a class on rhetoric and writing I had, which basically consisted of us parroting back to the professor her progressive views on everything). And the humanities departments have succeeded in requiring every student to take at least some of their classes; at UT, the upper division distribution requirement for US Studies may as well be called “why white men suck.” Luckily, now that I’ve decided on computer science as a major, I have to deal with this crap as little as possible.

    I had a similar experience. Went from wanting to be a psychology major to international affairs and now to math.

    The more I was exposed to the social sciences the more I saw them as nothing more then the most wretched, sick people in society reinforcing each others patholigies at taxpayer expense.

  50. What we might be getting here is not so much a conservative vs. liberal viewpoint as ideologists vs. realists. I don’t know where the box is for “cynical bastards about humanity not learning stuff unless it has it pounded into its head” but that’s where I stand (hence my posting name.) Yes, it is possible to get away from a Hobbsian might-makes-right structure, but it requires a lot of creating of an artificial environment and maintaining it through checks-and-balances, institutions such as “society enforcing good manners”, religions exhorting people thou-shalt-not-covet-thine-neighbor’s-wife, and the like. And it’s very easy to slip back down the ladder of civilization–witness Dafur or Iraq or Zimbabwe.

    On idealism and good scholarship: most idealists make horrible scholars because they can’t let go of preconceived ideas in their minds when confronted with contrary evidence, and are usually sloppy in their research, to boot. One of the most aggravating texts I had to use in my study of Roman treason law was written by an Italian Marxist. It drove me crackers–first of all, because everything had to be seen through the lens of the Class Struggle (which makes very little sense for interpreting crimen laesae maestatis and the dogfights in Italian Renaissance politics), and second, because in any argument he would pull in quotes from anywhere between the 11th and 17th centuries, totally ignoring that the political structures and political vocabulary was completely different in different periods. Case in point: fine gradations of treason in the 11th-14th centuries which started getting totally dropped in the 15th and 16th. (And anyone who wants to use a Divine Right of Kings argument to interpret something in the medieval period is out to lunch.)

    I think that for teaching scientific writing, a good training method is to get together a bunch of the best writing examples and a bunch of the worst, then have people write articles (on the same topic) in both styles. For good physics writing, I would always point people towards Feynman and Witten. For worst….um, that was pretty easy to track down….

    And must close with a quote from Goldstein’s Classical Mechanics: “Hence the jabberwockian sentence ‘The polhode rolls without slipping on the herpelhode lying in the invariant plane.'”

  51. I think that for teaching scientific writing, a good training method is to get together a bunch of the best writing examples and a bunch of the worst, then have people write articles (on the same topic) in both styles. For good physics writing, I would always point people towards Feynman and Witten. For worst….um, that was pretty easy to track down….

    Feynman’s popular writing is good. His lectures are heavily edited. Not so sure how well-written his research articles are, however. Never read any of them, to be honest.

    Never read any Witten either, alas.

  52. Thoreau–I remember a collection of articles Feynman had written which were nicely done. Also used his QED. textbook. We used to joke that our instructor had a very rare first edition because whenever we had problems his response was “oh, you’ll find that in Feynman’s QED” which of course, we never could.

    Witten is elegant but substantial. Supposedly learned his writing skills one summer working in someone’s political campaign, and just carried it over to physics. Too bad he got sucked into the superstring theology complex….

    It’s hard to find, but there’s a collection of Arthur C. Clarke’s technical papers as well. Very well done.

    For popular science, I point people towards Asimov, Clarke, Ed Regis (especially Transubstantiation and the Great Mambo Chicken).

    The problem with most scientific writing is that it’s usually two edits short of a full load. Also not helped by needing to take out yet another explanatory equation due to space limits in order to shove in a reference demanded by the referee.

  53. First of all a correction – the “reflections on violence” by Julian Sorel, if any, might be found in Stendahl’s Scarlet and Black. The Reflections On Violence by Georges Sorel would likely be more pertinent to the syllabus.

    The thread seems to illustrate the point. About a half-dozen intellegent and promising students bailed on social science and liberal arts during their undergrad years because their self-respect farbade their taking any more dumbed-down classes stacked with pop progressivism and post-modernist crap.

    Going forward this has three consequences: whose left to take the grad classes, write the texts, and hold for before the public with credentials? what incentive is their to reform the curricula? how well prepared are thoreau and others to hold up their end of an argument in fields they haven’t been in since taking some admittedly lame undergrad classes?

    And this may be worse. The bright guys who switched to math and science are apt to think all public policy and philosophy questions are as shallow and easy as the pop libertarian treatments they were able to sqeeze in between math classes…more Friedman than Hayek – much less any other conservative thinkers. They know SOME libertarianism, LESS of the Left, and essentially nothing about conservatism…and they are persuaded that there is nothing more to know – blissful in ignorance.

  54. I’d like to hear it. Self rightous indingation is the only thing that drives me in life.

    Ok, Ok…. When I was in college I took an Opinion and Editorial writing course taught by said socialist professor. On the first day of class we went around the class and gave a brief overview of our ideological beliefs. I mentioned I was a libertarian.

    “Oh, you’re one of those right wingers,” he said.

    I immediately went on to explain that I wasn’t a “right winger” since I pro-abortion, pro-gay rights, pro-free speech, and generally pro-social issues that give conservatives conniption fits.

    “Bullshit” he replied. “Your for capitalism. That makes you a right winger.”

    (BTW, he gave me an A-. He didn’t let his ideology get in the way of his student’s grades. Then again, despite all the screaming and yelling by the Right about “political correctness” during the 90s, I have never found one verifiable story about a “liberal” professor failing a conservative student due to politics.)

    The point is, some people can only see politics one way. If you are not with Left, you’re Right. If you are not Right, you’re Left. Another instance: My ultra-conservative father once claimed my libertarian tendencies made me a communist. Go figure.

  55. i would literally die to see a class dissecting julius evola’s work. shit, i start to flatline out of joy just thinking about it.

    i had a fairly conservative prof this past semester and aside from being a stickler about writing essays explaining his grading of our essays, his biases didn’t seem to effect his classroom performance too much. interesting guy, good class, and some great powerpoint by moi.

  56. The best and brightest in today’s universities are either in the engineering school, business school, or are so intensely pre-medical that they don’t pay attention to what’s going on around them. Liberal arts education is unthinkingly leftist, but only losers major in the liberal arts nowadays.

    Wow, what an idiotic generalization. This reminds me of my thinking when I was a freshmen. That is, before I actually met students of all majors and realized that there are plenty of highly intelligent liberal arts majors. One of my majors was accounting, a degree from the vaunted business school, and found that the majority of accounting majors were stereotypical frat boys
    (possessing zero intellectual curiosity). I’d rather have a drink with an english major.

  57. Greg,

    That’s how engineers view business school types, too. All the business profs at my school hated the engineers because they always ruined the curve in their ridiculously easy classes.

  58. The first time I went to college, I was considering various majors. The philosophy department head was trying to get me to declare philosophy as my major. I told him I was considering political science (I was considering law school at the time). His response was priceless:

    “Are you a Marxist?”
    “Uh, no.”
    “The political science department is full of nothing but a bunch of Marxists.”

  59. Andrew,

    To return to your first post, would you actually argue that Irving Kristol “contend[s] for a “human nature” resistant to utopian engineering”?

  60. “Wow, what an idiotic generalization.”

    Let me fix that for you then. Mostly losers major in the liberal arts nowadays.

  61. Too bad that Liberal Arts is for losers. The people at Williams, Amherst, Bowdoin, Hamilton, Colby, and Carlton (to name a few) will be soooo disappointed….

  62. There’s another issue to consider when liberal arts professors give good grades to essays that regurgitate what was said in class and lower grades to essays that venture outside the class material. The professor may not be biased so much as lazy, and here’s why:

    I have taught a few science classes now, and because they’ve usually been specialized classes rather than part of the core curriculum (i.e. a prerequisite course where we need to cover every item on a list so they’re ready for the next course) I’ve assigned them to research a topic and write a paper.

    If a student writes a paper on something that is closely related to things that I’ve talked about, the student can take my explanations as a starting point and weave my viewpoint into the paper. I’m not trying to insist on that, but a student who does it has the advantage of writing something that makes perfect sense to me because I helped plant the seeds. I try to correct for that, but it isn’t always easy. And it’s not as easy as you might think to get inside the student’s head and figure out whether he or she really understands the material (and simply used my explanations as a starting point) or if the student is just repeating my stuff back to me.

    A clumsy regurgitation of my explanation is easy to spot, but a more sophisticated writer can get past my filters more easily. I have to give some benefit of the doubt when grading, I can’t mark somebody down just because they demonstrate that they understood my lectures and incorporated my discussions into their understanding.

    OTOH, a student who decides to branch out and research something that wasn’t discussed in class is taking more risks. The student doesn’t have the advantage of a starting point that I provided. I want to reward intellectual risk and give some benefit of the doubt on those papers, and I try to, but I can’t just excuse a sloppy paper with a very incomplete discussion of the topic.

    So there’s this fine line that I have to walk. Students who stay close to my class discussions have the advantage of starting their study from material that has been carefully discussed (a perfectly reasonable advantage) but they also have the opportunity to regurgitate and write it carefully to disguise what they’re doing. OTOH, students who branch out and try to write about something that I haven’t covered should be rewarded for showing intellectual independence, but it may be harder for an inexperienced person branching out on his own to do quality work.

    It’s something that I struggle with in my grading.

  63. As morlock demonstrates why both engineers AND liberal arts folks laugh at libertarians in college, even if they have some sympathy for the basic ideology …

    Basically, “conservatives” long ago drifted from honest intellectual inquiry into the field of rhetoric. To give just one example — this is why creationism is a non-starter within the ivory tower, but you can find poli sci grads who go to Capitol Hill to peddle it to the electoral masses.

    Sure, some liberal arts majors washed out of more lucrative fields. Others spurned business school or law school because they suffer from idealism. It’s a curse. But would you rather hang out with a bunch of wind-up spin doctors making $500K on K Street, a bunch of MBA sharks waiting for their shots on “The Apprentice” or a bunch of people who actually … you know … think?

    Maybe we’d also have a better government if we treated the humanities with more respect? Liberal arts majors are a little less likely to be conned by the typical cynical attack ad.

  64. I see a basic division between what is traditionally thought of as “liberal arts” (history, languages, philosophy, literature), and the “social sciences” (poli-sci, sociology, economics, [fill in the blank] studies).

    My own bias is that social science is where most of the politicized crap takes place. The traditional liberal arts require substantial effort to master and amount to much more than tuition-paid bullshit sessions. People who major in the social sciences should know that’s what they’re going to get for their $20k per year. Where the real problem lies is the effort by some faculty to turn the liberal arts into a similar sort of politicized bullshit session. And that’s wrong, whatever the ideological persuasion.

  65. “Liberal arts majors are a little less likely to be conned by the typical cynical attack ad.”

    i agree with your biases, probably, but jesus christ no no no no no.

    humans are emotional animals, and politics is the art of tuning an emotional response. if we started seeing cynical attack ads against the war on drugs or some other statist monument to death and failure, we’d be cheering like a bunch of fucking loonies too. i’d be making popcorn.

    “liberal arts majors” encompasses a huge number of college students, all of whom have their own problems. there are plenty of marxist cheeseheads (and even some gk chesterton style “wits”) to go around.

  66. “Oh, you’re one of those right wingers,” he said.
    I’ve had a teacher who was fairly politically ambigous/nuetral tell a class the same thing, so I don’t really think that way of thinking is limited to socialist pricks.

    In fact, I often times consider liberterianism to be in the far right wing. Granted, I believe that we should be able to smoke pot and make sweet love to gay men, but those ideas stem from the rightwing concept of property rights. I want some of the same things as the left, but not for the same reason as the left.

  67. dhex — I like the response, but in your example, you’re cheering for something with which you already agree. I suppose I’m looking for people who are “conned” in the sense that they actually think Candidate X is going to take away their jobs, kneel before our new masters from China, hire illegal immigrants to perform abortions, etc., just because Candidate Y told them so.

    The other point I’d raise in defense of liberal arts majors is that they generally respect the intellectual process. You know — reason. The name of this publication/site.

    Sure, there are plenty of exceptions, but most of them at least started with good intentions. What I saw in grad school was a bunch of people who all went in search of diverse voices and new ways of scrutinizing the voices we already heard. Some of them took wrong turns and ended up putting too much stock in some new idea. But that doesn’t mean the journey itself was a bad idea.

    So in the spirit of Christmas, let’s suggest this. The world needs intellectual idealists, kicking around ideas in the liberal arts, and it needs practical thinkers in economics and engineering. Any half-decent innovation has roots in all fields. Put a few engineers in a room, and you might get a chip that can hold extraordinary amounts of data. Add a designer and a couple of random dreamers, and you get an iPod.

    Which happens to be what I want for Christmas. The iPod itself, not just the harmony among academic fields required to produce it.

  68. Which happens to be what I want for Christmas. The iPod itself, not just the harmony among academic fields required to produce it.

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