Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Illiberal Education, 11/29/2006 Edition

This worrisome info via Instapundit.

For some reason I have a hard time getting liberals to (a) believe and (b) care about the fact that the extreme and extremish left is something of a problem in many important parts of academia.

I lived in a conservative place until college, then went to a conservative by the time I ended up at grad school, I was so used to battling against the right that I simply didn't realize that there were kooks on the left, too. But there are. Oh, indeed there are. And I found that out right quick. And if you don't believe it, come spend some time in academia. It is, in my experience, WAY, WAY less of a problem than the David Horowitzes of the world would have us believe...but it's a problem alright. (It is, I believe, primarily a problem at more prestigious/fashionable schools, actually.)

In case you don't believe me, go read Illiberal Education. D'Souza's a partisan hack of the first water, but the book is basically veridical. It gives you a fairly good picture of some of the worst outbreaks of the problem, and the cases he reports on are consistent with several things I've seen myself. And don't exercise the method of tenacity by making excuses like "yeah, well, but those are just the worst cases." They're some of the worst I've heard of, it's true...but they're not superduperradically a-typical. That is, they're not a-typical enough for comfort.

Liberals tend to immediately recoil when I say things like this, but they shouldn't. Obviously I'm not some right-wing kook who hates liberals and thinks that the academy's rotten with them. Rather, I'm fairly liberal, and I'm simply trying to point out that there are, in fact, some decidedly illiberal forces at work in the academy. Again, its not the massive, pervasive conspiracy of commies that some would like to think it is, but it's something significant enough to warrant the attention of people like you, oh reader.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I had the same experience living in Berkeley for a while: "Wait a moment, I thought I was fairly liberal. Why do all these people sound insane to me?"

I think it comes down to reason. There are those on both the right and the left who view reason as (respectively) a tool of the devil or a tool of the patriarchy. I have no patience for these idiots, whether they agree with me on social security or not.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Amen. Testify, brother/sister, testify...

11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Somewhat germane to this topic: Winston, you've railed against Orson Scott Card in the past, and his latest book (blue states break away from the US, start new American civil war) is a wonder to behold. In particular, the second chapter, featuring an evil liberal professor is a wonder to behold.

That said, I do have to ask - it's one thing to condemn a lot of these far-left academics as kooks, and to say that no reasonable person would/should agree with them. But what are we supposed to do about it? They are where they are because the academia is purposefully structured to provide space for those with unorthodox views. I don't see any way to separate envelope-pushing research in, say, American history from extremist political views - they're frequently one and the same.

What I'd argue instead is that you simply have to accept a certain amount of kookitude from academics. The real test as to what extent these guys cause harm is not whether they get tenure, publish, etc., but to what extent A) their ideas get adopted by the rest of society (not bloody likely, from where I'm standing) and B) to what extent they start to take over and prevent equally qualified non-kooks from getting academic jobs. I'll leave it up to you to give your opinion on how much that latter issue is a problem.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I don't know what to do Chris. I'm not even suggesting any options. I honestly just want us to recognize that there's something of a problem and think about it more-or-less calmly.

5:42 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

As I wrote below about the news, my problem isn't the nonsense that is taught, but the good stuff that ain't. That one could go through school without Adam Smith (who is very much alive) yet be conversant in Marx (who is dead, dead, dead) is the real tragedy.

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That one could go through school without Adam Smith (who is very much alive) yet be conversant in Marx (who is dead, dead, dead) is the real tragedy.

I would agree with this, except I'm not sure it's actually the case - it wasn't the case in my microeconomics class 10 years ago, it's not true of my wife's Intro to Econ class today. So I'm asking, in all humility: where exactly does this scenario occur?

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's actually interesting that you choose that specific example, Tom, because I have not found that to be true . . . at least not in any of the econ classes I've taken.

As much as many departments tend to skew left, I've not yet found a single econ department that hasn't skewed hard right.

2:32 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Interesting point. Wish there were some hard data on this stuff. Marx seems to still be a darling of much of the intellectual left *outside* of econ depts...LitCritters and such...though I'm given to believe that he's officially bad in the eyes of the PoMos b/c he advocates a "grand meta-narrative."

It's baffled me for a long time how enamored parts of the intellectual left is with Marx and Freud...but then most of their intellectual heroes are folks that fail to resonate with me.

Adam Smith is, of course, heroified by libertarians, of which there are more than a few in philosophy dept.s...but non-libertarians tend only to read his _Theory of the Moral Sentiments_, which has lain, unread, on my book pile for about a year now.

But, then, I don't read anymore, I just teach.

10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know where Tom Van Dyke went to school, but it's most certainly not true where I and my friends went to school.

Smith and Marx were both included not only in economics courses, but also in Western Civilization/History courses.

And regarding economics specifically, they both have something of value to add, Smith considerably more than Marx. Marx correctly identified problems in capitalist economies, but his solution was wrong.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marx seems to still be a darling of much of the intellectual left *outside* of econ depts...LitCritters and such.

Well, right. Marx is the favorite economist of people who don't know much about economics in much the same way that Ayn Rand is the favorite philosopher of people who don't know much about philosophy.

12:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AND the same way that Bush is the favorite politician of folks who don't know much about politics! Thankew! Thankew! I'll be here all week!

12:54 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Try the veal...

11:27 AM  

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