Intellectual Insecurity

To follow-up briefly on the recent discussion regarding intramural conservative debate, there’s an odd tendency among certain mainstream conservatives to unduly concern themselves with enforcing intellectual orthodoxy. Case in point is this hysterical blog post from National Review’s Cesar Conda, which implores the Hoover Institute to kick Professor Diane Ravitch off the payroll for suggesting a 90 percent income tax on people earning over 10 million dollars per year.

Now I think Ravitch’s idea is silly for many of the same reasons Conda provides, but is it really necessary to write someone out of the movement for throwing out a provocative idea in a forum designed for free-flowing debate? Ravitch’s academic credentials are impeccable. A brief survey of her work reveals a book decrying the rise of PC culture in schools, not to mention numerous articles criticizing No Child Left Behind, attacking Obama’s education policy, and defending requirements for presenting a photo ID before voting. These are not, as they say, the liberals you’re looking for. So why bother expending so much energy to kick them out of the movement?

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24 thoughts on “Intellectual Insecurity

  1. So, her work for Hoover primarily focuses on education and civil liberties issues, it would appear. Why would Hoover fire her for expressing a non-Hoover approved viewpoint on economic policy in a non-Hoover forum?

    For all of the Right’s complaints about, for instance, the ACLU, part of what has made that organization so generally successful is that the Left doesn’t demand that it adhere to some sort of rigid ideology in its hires. As a result, it has managed to get away with collaborating – closely – with people like Dick Armey and Bob Barr, to name just a few. These collaborations build bridges with people who may not agree with other aspects of the ACLU’s positions. All of which reminds that I need to find the time this weekend to weigh in on your and Chris’ debate.

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  2. Like E.D. said, Excommunication is about self-definition. That is exactly why it is so popular these days. Most of what modern “mainstream conservatism” is about is self-definition because it has become an identity-movement and not a movement about ideas or policies.

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  3. I’m reminded of the Libertarians… fights between the “statist” Constitutionalist types and the “still statist” minarchists (he’s not going to be a Night Watchman for more than one generation!) and the anacaps.

    When purity is all you got, purity is very important.

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  4. Jaybird- for some reason this stuff always reminds me of David Friedman’s quote (I’m paraphrasing from memory) that “It’s possible you’ll find two libertarians who agree on something, but I won’t be one of them.”

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  5. Actually – the funny thing about libertarians is that since everyone is always so hung up on proving that they represent the One True Libertarian Faith, everyone winds up claiming to excommunicate everyone else, but never actually succeeding in doing so.

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  6. The train station analogy is a cute one.

    Hey, everybody! Get on the freedom train! Though we don’t agree on the destination, we at least agree on the vector. So let’s all go that way! And when the government gets smaller to the degree we want it, we can hop off at the freedom station of our choice!

    Needless to say, this argument works a lot better with the incrementalists than the ones who want to burn everything and start over.

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  7. This is certainly a bad decision by the Hoover Institute, but it seems bizarre to focus on this incident as if it were the typical example of how orthodoxy is enforced in academia. It is FAR more common to see conservatives driven out or marginalized for dissenting from liberal orthodoxy than the other way around. And when you look at the content of the Orwellian speech codes that proliferate on college campuses in spite of their hostility to basic Constitutional guarentees, you find that the enforcers of those speech codes are almost 100% from the left, not from conservatism.

    I’m not saying that there are not conservatives who want to censor liberals out of academia because there are. I encounter them all the time. But when it comes to people who are BOTH censorous AND empowered to carry out those impulses in academia, the overwhelming majority of incidents is anti-conservative.

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  8. Jason Arvak –

    I think a lot of those concerns are valid, but the focus of this post (and the one that preceded it) is the state of intra-conservative discourse. In my view, conservatives suffer from an inordinate attachment to movement orthodoxy. I think the lack of interaction between dissident conservative/libertarian outlets and their mainstream counterparts proves this point rather nicely. The Left, at least, does a better job of engaging everyone under the tent, from wishy-washy moderates to progressive activists.

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  9. “And when you look at the content of the Orwellian speech codes that proliferate on college campuses in spite of their hostility to basic Constitutional guarentees, you find that the enforcers of those speech codes are almost 100% from the left, not from conservatism.”

    What year is this? 1989?

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  10. Jason- your proof of this claim is where? tell me about the orwellain speech codes. i can’t tell if this is a snipe or a jackalope.

    now Will don’t you know Jason will never come back to this site after disagreeing with him.

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  11. hmmmm that was a snide dismissive post. i’m sure there are examples of PC behaviour and close minded people on campuses. some might even be recent and not promoted by arch wingnut david horowitz.

    to be more polite. when presented with yet another evidence of the closed minded nature of modern conservatism, the response is to pull out a favorite canard about how mean and terrible college’s are, is just another example of how closed minded conservatives are.

    oh and does the hoover institute really count as academia. it’s a conservative think tank/pr operation.

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  12. Re: Jason –

    While I’ll agree that the professors in many university departments are heavily slanted leftwards, and I’ve certainly encountered lectures that I thought had a liberally slanted view of events as well as some snide comments about conservative politicians or policies in the abstract, I really haven’t seen much “shutting down of debate”. Most professors I’ve encountered are quite open to students disagreeing with them, and quite willing to admit their personal biases.

    Before going further, I think it’s useful to actually state what my personal experiences are, as opposed to just pontificating based on general images. My mother is a law professor, so I have a faculty-eye view of the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. For somewhat complex personal reasons, I audit classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at OSU, with most of my student experience being in the Law (graduate), History, Sociology, Intl. Studies, Economics, and Political Science disciplines [since I’m auditing, I can do a lot more across disciplines than a regular student could].

    In any event, I’ve certainly encountered a fair share of professors I would regard as woolly, far-leftists [I consider myself a moderate Classical Liberal, although on the American political spectrum I usually end up on the ‘Democrat’ side of the ledger when we get down to just two-party voting]. I don’t think that’s the same as “shutting out debate”, though, since some of those professors’ classes have had lively political discussions. Similarly, I don’t see conservatives per se having a tougher time among the law school faculty or in getting hired, although I don’t know anything about the >internal< politics of the history, pol-sci, sociology etc. departments. Based on broad generalizations and one incident at the law school that I heard about & can be interpreted several ways, I think you might be able to argue that a lot of academics, particularly leftist academics, have a bias against religious-fundamentalist, “bible-thumping baptist” type conservatives in hiring, who they see as un-intellectual due to things like young earth creationism. I don’t see much evidence of a broader ‘anti-conservative’ bias, though, that would include the much more common [at this socio-economic strata] business, libertarian or moderate conservatives of various stripes.

    I would argue instead that in eg Sociology, the people who get PHDs in Sociology and go into teaching it are overwhelmingly quite liberal. Now, this may be self-perpetuating, in a sort of “structural bias”, and I would *not* contend this argument, but that’s rather different than “You have said something that does not fit my political views; you are now barred from the university” and if that’s the argument you’re advancing I think you should be specific about that.

    Re: the Antioch policy –

    I really don’t see what’s wrong with it, after looking it up and reading it. Most of it seems highly uncontroversial – you can’t properly consent to sex while under the influence of drugs or while *asleep*? Does anyone question that one?

    The main issue would seem to be the clunky, over-broad sounding language in some parts, exemplified by this paragraph:

    “3. Obtaining consent is an on-going process in any sexual interaction. Verbal consent should be obtained with each new level of physical and/or sexual contact/conduct in any given interaction, regardless of who initiates it. Asking “Do you want to have sex with me?” is not enough. The request for consent must be specific to each act. ”

    But does anyone disagree with the underlying point – that you do not consent to the entire realm of sex acts by consenting to some sort of sex? Furthermore, the code goes on to explicitly mention that anyone who feels they no longer consent or are uncomfortable with new parts of sex should communicate and express that lack of consent, clearly recognizing that the process is not just a matter of asking every 5 seconds.

    Furthermore, I think complaining about the broad language misses a fundamental point. If this were a true regulatory code, enforced by a brigade of peeping toms spying on every student’s sex, the complaint might have some merit. But presumably the code only matters ***if someone complains***, meaning that something bad DID happen, and somebody DIDN’T consent to something. So I can see a strong argument for writing the code broadly, maybe overly formalistically, to ensure ‘jurisdiction’ over anything that comes up, since clearly one person DIDN’T consent.

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  13. yes thru the wonders of The Google i have read the Antioch policy… And so what. Yes it is square in almost a 1950’s style stilted language. but what is there to argue about in it. and if you think this is Orwellian then you don’t know anything about Orwell.

    In reference to the liberalism of college’s i completely agree that many liberal arts profs are liberal. OOOOHHhhh the evil scourge of english professors has indeed oppressed you. exactly where do you see the huge impact of sociology and english profs in our culture.

    so just as a query. In MBA schools, like the ones many of douche bags on wall street completed, how many liberals do you think are there. do you think computer science departments might have more liberatiarians then other departments? and what would the general political views of geology students be? beats me. Conservatives get all pissy about what are the least influential and least funded departments on most campuses while ingnoring the views of all the other programs on campuses. just silly.

    and what is the problem with having to give consent before sex. Do you realize there is still a problem with date rape in colleges? and why does anybody really care about Antioch College. of what significance is it. it’s almost like you are searching for a reason to feel oppressed.

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  14. As great as it is to see it assumed that disdain for a specific policy at Antioch is support for rape, I’m more pointing out the assumption that there is no such thing as implied consent.

    While I look forward to your response asking me if I am truly saying that I think it’s cool to kill a woman in the woods and leave her body to be eaten by racoons just because she said that, yeah, I could buy her a beer (allow me to say that, no, I am not saying that), I also think that it is, in fact, silly to ask verbal consent for every escalation every single time.

    Even saying all that, I still somehow suspect that this will be read as me supporting roofies.

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  15. I love greginak’s last post. I’d add the question of why, when we speak of accademia, we aren’t generally referring to Bob Jones University or Notre Dame. I went to a very socially liberal school that did in fact drive anything that even had a conservative scent away. I also did a most unfortunate semester at a socially conservative institution, the kind where sex is verboten because it might lead to dancing. Each was intolerant in trying to make a social cocoon for their different communities. If liberal arts colleges are guilty of these high crimes, aren’t religious institutions at least equally guilty if not more?

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  16. um jay i didn’t i accuse you of being a killer with a pack of racoons as your posse. i thought that of course, but i didn’t say it. Silly policy at tiny colleges is not exactly the biggest problem this country has. or proof of anything.

    Our Lord Obama’s black helicopters and FEMA re-educated contract lawyers/sex therapists are on their way, just so you know.

    So did they keep the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch at Antioch College. That would be cool.

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  17. Oh, allow me to say that silly policies at tiny colleges are *FAR* from the biggest problems the country has.

    I do think that they overlap with the whole “busybodies seeing it as their moral responsibility to pass legislation telling everybody how to live” thing that is one the list of the biggest problems the country has… but the codes are a symptom of that (not the cause).

    I see Cascadian’s question as a question about two sides of the same coin, actually. Liberal Arts Colleges and Religious Institutions share the same number of taboos (and in some wacky cases, the taboos themselves appear like funhouse mirror versions of each other).

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  18. Forgive me for beating a dead horse, but I think all of this is rather easily explainable by the fact that Conservatism is now, and has been for at least a while, an identity movement quite like ones we’ve seen in various racial, ethnic, etc. communities.

    I know all political movements are identity movements to the extent that our political beliefs and assumptions do form part of our identity but the Conservative Movement has become an “Identity Movement” in that this sense of identity has become increasingly based around symbols empty of actual political content or relevance.

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