Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Response to Douthat

Ross Douthat doesn't like what the right is doing to "fix" academia. Reihan Salam has some remarks, and so do I. Like Douthat, I'm wary of the press for "intellectual diversity," but mainly because I'd rather have profs not mention Bush at all in classes that have nothing to do with current events than have half who like him and have who don't. That said, I agree with Douthat that some new conservative thought is in order. But the direction I see this new thought taking (judging by what intelligent conservatives are saying these days) might not be much of an improvement over the Allan Blooms of the past.

The old line about how college students have been dumbed down by radical multiculturalism and made immoral by gender-neutral bathrooms will never be perceived of by the left as anything other than whining; even if these arguments do have merit, which at times they do, they will be considered inconsequential and thus ignored. But the arguments the left takes seriously don't come from the Allan Bloom-type ambigucons (was Bloom really a conservative?), but from the Rick Santorums, or from the more articulate social conservatives of places like the Weekly Standard.

A brilliant conservative thinker of the sort who might spring up today would find radical ways to point out the evils of abortion and homosexuality, the desperate need for more religion in the public sphere. In other words, a new conservative (no, not neoconservative) star academic would have to push for huge leaps backwards, for vast increases in government involvement with an individual's actions, rather than, as Bloom did, suggest that some so-called progressive leaps were not in fact improvements to begin with. The more modest goal--with bits of social conservatism whenever left-wing radicalism gets out of hand, but an overall libertarian goal of staying out of people's business--is what conservatism should be about, and that's the sort of conservatism that today's college students, even self-declared liberals, would be most likely to embrace.


Rita said...

I am inclined to agree with you that political partisanship should be removed from the classroom and that's about all we can ask from professors. However, I think you're only looking at the more superficial manifestations of political bias in the examples you cite. It's not the inclusion of a particular theory or subject area that should be of concern, but rather the exclusion of whole areas of study that get sacrificed to trendy academic fads that are largely determined by politics. For example, in American history, the courses offered trend overwhelmingly towards cultural history and the elevation of minutia to a status of great importance, and this leaves some rather large gaps to be filled if one were interested in some sort of holistic history of the US. Where is Jacksonian America? Civil War? Westward migration? The politics of the post-Civil War era(those not relating to labor and class struggles)? America in WWII? American military history? Intellectual history? I don't think it's a coincidence that certain subjects have disappeared or been much diminished in the academy since the 1970s. The problem is not that evil homosexuals have invaded universities and bringing in conservatives will curb rampant immorality or any such ridiculous thing, it's that universities are politicized--by students as well as faculty--to the point where the entire curricula is shaped by partisan politics rather than a real philosophy of education that transcends partisanship.

If by "huge leaps backward," you mean the re-inclusion of basic epochs of American history in the curriculum, I'm all for regressing.

But the main point of my posting here is that I am told that you're related to a certain JPost columnist whom CFI would like to bring to campus next year. Is this true? If so, would you be interested in applying your francophilic Zionism to help us out?

Adam said...

So Phoebe is basically suggesting to conservatives that if they want to change the current balance of power on campus, they have to be positive rather than critical, constructive about their ideological objective rather than destructive of others', assuming that both can coexist of course.

Here's a question I have for you: given the choice, would you rather see conservatism deconstruct liberal progress (on campus and/or in general), or implement the positive conservative agenda as you've defined it?