Tuesday, August 14, 2007

It's their thing

Jacob Levy would like there to be a blog that was "a consistent source of conservative commentary on higher education, written by people who can distinguish between good and bad research, and who are invested in and knowledgeable about higher education." He points out that the National Review's blog, "Phi Beta Cons," does not meet that goal. This is fair--the blog is not so much commentary on research as a repetitive preach to the converted, pointing out again and again that political correctness, you know, exists. It's Phi Beta Conservative, but also Phi Beta Cons, as in, the standards of academia are morally bankrupt and are tricking students into studying things like Same-Sex Relationships in Post-Colonial Communities of Color, when it should be Plato, football, or nothing at all.

But could a better conservative academia blog exist? Of course there are conservatives in academia, and not just in law or economics. Some of my best friends and all that. But the mainstream, lowest-common-denominator take on academia in the conservative press is that it, along with "gender," "Islam," and "France," is a keyword that signals a rant. Sometimes a rant containing bits thoughtful and much-needed criticism, but a rant all the same. What Allan Bloom started, they intend to finish, embellish, and overdo. Sometimes this manifests itself as anti-intellectual populism (those know-it-all lovers of Hilary Clinton!) and other times as a plea for more conservative voices within academia. But mainly academia means young men and women together in dorms, it means knee-jerk hatred of all that is holy, and every possible strain of decadence with no good, hard work, like trucking and marrying five women. College is destroying our youth, and academics are the people in charge of--and who succeeded in--college.

Insulting academia is a fundamental part of the discourse (to use an academic word) of the right, so it's only natural that an account of academia on a blog of a not-especially-subtle right-wing magazine would be filled with little of any use to those actually in academia. And then it all becomes self-fulfilling--since conservatives as an interest group don't want in on academia (although plenty of individuals with conservative opinions do), academia itself becomes a relaxed--occasionally too relaxed--place for those on the left, where common assumptions of how "we" feel about this or that issue dominate conversations. And then neither those on the left in academia nor those on the right who write for publications like National Review are familiar with the more convincing elements of one another's arguments.


The Sanity Inspector said...

If you're collecting conservative rants about academia, have one of mine.

Fr. said...

Conservative blogging on the condition of muslim women in France must be entertaining pieces.

Anonymous said...

OK Phoebe:

Here's a challenge to you.

What is an example of a good blog on academia from the left side?

The Sanity Inspector said...

Thanks all, for the phoebe-lanche at my place!

Anonymous said...

I agree that such a forum is desperately needed; the Abu El Haj tenure battle at Columbia is an example of why it is needed.

This is an instance of demonstrably bad scholarship. the woman's sole book, Facts on the Ground, is supposed to be an anthropological study of Israeli archaeology, But it is done with facts and methods so bad only a post-colonialist could have written it. The core of her absurd and unsubstantiable argument is that ancient Israel never existed.

It is probably true that a book this fictional about any other topic wold have sunk like a stone. Because she was attacking Israel, they gave her a job at Barnard College, where almost the entire anthropology Department signed the divestment petition.

But because it is about Israel, it is hard to get the discussion to focus on the bad facts she uses. Even though some of them are actually funny. Like, Jerusalem in the time of Jesus was "not Jewish" and, in the year 70 Jerusalem was burned not by the Romans but by a working class uprising.

It would be nice to have a place where the bad scholarship could be discussed. Even in the case of a professor who wants to destroy Israel.

Burkean Conservative said...

This is, frankly, a ridiculous argument - if argument is the right word. Can it be the case that you are claiming because there are intellectually impoverished political tacticians speaking about higher education (a la Horowitz, etc.), that conservatism and the life of the mind in the academy are antithetical? I wonder how many conservative blogs you read, other than the "big" ones that tend to be the most inflammatory. There are plenty of conservatives - of many stripes - in the academy, from the traditionalist (MacIntyre) to the liberal (Mansfield) to the libertarian (Barnett) who belie this silly supposition. It's screeds like this that simply feed the fire of the bombastic conservative operatives, and detract rightful attention from the serious academic work that is being done by legions of various conservative academics.

Phoebe said...

I'm pretty sure that if you don't agree with something, it cannot be called an argument.

Burkean Conservative said...

I'm pretty sure that if one advances a view based on bad information, it's not an argument either. Here's the argument you need to make: 1. blogging is a medium conducive to serious intellectual analysis (this is a premise that may need defense, a la "anonymous's" post). 2. However, conservatives are incapable of serious intellectual analysis on blogs. This is because a. they are incapable of serious intellectual analysis tout court (which we know is not true), or b. there is a necessary disconnect between the practice of blogging and conservative philosophical forms of thought (I'd like to see this case made). That would constitute an argument, even if it were flawed. What you "argued" - that conservatives can only rant hackneyed political attacks, and further, that they stay away from the academy (presumably because they are so ignorant) - is really just silly and, dare I say, ignorant. There are enough academic conservatives to belie that point, and enough stories of conservatives denied entrance to the academy by liberal academics to suggest that the very opposite is the case - that liberals prefer not to encounter serious alternatives. It's that "comfort zone" of which you rightly speak.