• November 24, 2014

Well, Naturally We're Liberal

Well, Naturally We're Liberal 1

Dave Cutler for The Chronicle Review

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Dave Cutler for The Chronicle Review

I've never understood why some people find it so hard to explain the "liberal bias of the academy." A recent article in The New York Times walks us through a virtual museum of contemporary theories, most employing some of the shiniest state-of-the-art statistical and conceptual tools that current social research has to offer.

True, common sense puts in an appearance now and again, but any actual member of the academy will come to feel that it's a case of swatting a fly with a front-loader. For most of us, at least in the liberal arts, the answers are obvious and part of our everyday existence.

I add the qualification in that last sentence because it doesn't make sense to speak of the political persuasions of the academy as a whole. Anyone who has been to a faculty meeting lately, at an institution of any size, knows that faculty members from business schools are typically the most conservative, followed, in order, by the natural sciences, the social sciences, and finally those pesky liberals in the liberal arts.

Of course, not every liberal-arts professor is politically liberal, nor is every business instructor politically conservative. But by and large, this alignment is pretty clear to all of us without a lot of expensive research. If the academy seems to list to the liberal side in comparison with the general population, it's certainly not thanks to an overabundance of liberal business professors, pinko natural scientists, or Marxist social scientists. Rather, academe leans left because it takes a proportionally significant number of liberal-arts professors to hone the basic intellectual skills that we expect of college graduates: things like interpretive reading, cogent writing, critical thinking, and a sense of a shared historical tradition and the major issues currently confronting our society and world. If those abilities and insights aren't addressed by the liberal arts, then they certainly won't be in Introduction to Finance, Calculus II, or Biochemistry.

So the real question isn't why academe is so liberal, but rather, Why are instructors in the liberal arts so, well, liberal? I think there are three basic reasons, all of them what common sense might predict, all rather obvious, and none in need of fancy research involving such things as "occupational role modeling" and "vocational engendering."

First, as the Times article notes, virtually all instructors in the liberal arts are aware of the disparity between their level of education and their financial situation. There's no secret that the liberal arts are the lowest-compensated sector of academe, despite substantially more advanced study than business instructors and the equivalent of those in the natural sciences. Just as important, there are few opportunities for liberal-arts scholars to supplement their incomes by serving on government and corporate boards, filing patents and licenses, and, of course, obtaining generous research grants. You don't have to be a militant Marxist to recognize that people's political persuasions will align pretty well with their economic interests. It's real simple: Those who have less and want more will tend to support social changes that promise to accomplish that; those who are already economic winners will want to conserve their status.

I don't mean to suggest that issues of conscience beyond the confines of crass self-interest don't play an important role for many in the liberal arts, but their basic economic condition virtually assures that those in the liberal arts will be natural-born liberals. Who, after all, would want to preserve a situation in which others who are equivalently educated and experienced—doctors, engineers, lawyers, scientists, colleagues in other areas, and, yes, chief executives—receive vastly more compensation, sometimes by a factor of 10 or 100? I wonder what would happen to the academic political spectrum if liberal-arts professors were compensated the same as those in other areas. If an enterprising sociologist wants to conduct such an experiment, I'll certainly volunteer as a subject.

Such an experiment, however, isn't necessary. Just look at countries where college and university professors across disciplines are paid more or less the same. In Germany, where I did a good deal of my graduate work and have been a visiting professor on numerous occasions, compensation is determined by civil-service rank rather than academic field. Probably because German conservatives have rarely attacked academe as a hotbed of liberalism, and privacy laws prevent such polling of civil servants, the sort of studies reported on in the Times aren't generally available. But my own experience indicates that German professors and instructors are paid roughly equivalently across disciplines and in comparison with other nonacademic professionals, so they tend, for the most part, to be moderate or even conservative. Although here in the United States we hear about radical European professors—Derrida and Habermas come to mind—they are notable precisely because they are so exceptional.

A second reason that liberal-arts professors tend to be politically liberal is that they have very likely studied large-scale historical processes and complex cultural dynamics. Conservatives, who tend to evoke the need to preserve traditional connections with the past, have nonetheless contributed least to any detailed or thoughtful study of history. Most (although, of course, by no means all) prominent historians of politics, literature, the arts, religion, and even economics have tended, as conservatives claim, to be liberally biased. Fair enough. But if you actually take the time to look at history and culture, certain conclusions about human nature, society, and economics tend to force themselves on you. History has a trajectory, driven in large part by the desires of underprivileged or oppressed groups to attain parity with the privileged or the oppressor.

Consider the Greek struggle against Persian tyranny, the struggles to preserve the Roman Republic, the peasant uprisings of the Middle Ages, the American and French revolutions, the abolitionist and civil-rights movements, and now movements on behalf of other groups—women, Latinos, homosexuals, and the physically impaired. As President Obama recently put it, any open-minded review of history (and perhaps especially American history) teaches at least one clear lesson: There is a "right side of history," Obama said­—the side of those who would overcome prejudice, question unearned privilege, and resist oppression in favor of a more just condition.

If you don't study history, whether because it doesn't pad quarterly profits, isn't sufficiently scientific or objective, or threatens your own economic status, then you won't know any of that. But most of those in the liberal arts have concluded that there really isn't any other intellectually respectable way to interpret the broad contours of history and culture. They are liberal, in other words, by deliberate and reasoned choice, based upon the best available evidence.

Finally, most liberal-arts professors come from a background of liberal education, which emphasizes the role that values play in human affairs. (I admit that "values" is sort of a tired, old-fashioned notion, but no other word covers the same territory.) More important, they've learned that values inevitably conflict, and they have developed the skills to interpret these clashes with nuance, envisioning various forms of resolution or mediation. In a certain sense, from Plato to Hegel to Derrida, philosophy—the paradigmatic liberal art—has been engaged with nothing but those questions.

It is this open perspective on what types of values can be considered legitimate, the various ways they can be approached, and the different redefinitions or reconfigurations that they may assume that most differentiates liberal-arts faculty members from their colleagues in business, law, medicine, or the natural sciences. (I don't mention the social sciences here, because there is no longer any really meaningful line that can be drawn between the humanities and the social sciences.) All of those other fields are structured around specific values that remain relatively fixed: profit and exchange in business; justice and social utility in law; health and wellness in medicine; objectivity, explanation, and prediction in the natural sciences. The liberal arts are distinctive because they are open to considering any of those values outside their narrow professional contexts.

Despite all the panicky alarms sounded not so long ago by some conservatives against the "relativism," if not "nihilism," implicit in the (alleged) poststructuralist hijacking of the liberal arts, it turns out that there has proved to be much more agreement on what constitutes the good life than most of the critics realized. Or maybe they have realized: It is, just as they charge, some sort of a broadly liberal point of view.

It is because we liberal-arts professors have a personal stake in our relative economic status; we have carefully studied the actual dynamics of history and culture; and we have trained ourselves to think in complex, nuanced, and productive ways about the human condition that so many of us are liberals. Most of us agree with President Obama that there is a "right side of history," and we feel morally bound to be on it. Although we'd like to see some parity in compensation with our colleagues, we chose our fields with full awareness of the tradeoff. Part of our compensation lies in knowing that our studies can complement our standing on the "right side," rather than having our basic commitments dictated to us by the limitations of other, narrower professions.

So all you journalists and researchers: Enough with this assumption that liberal-arts professors are liberal as a result of naïveté, as if our tweed jackets and pipes, as the Times article put it (how much of that do you really see these days?), render us ignorant of the ways of the world. Drop this idea that we were somehow coerced into being liberals by peer pressure or role models. And most of all, don't condescend to suggest that we may just be, as one expert quoted by the Times did, free spirits (read: malcontents and misfits) who couldn't cut it in the serious professions (like Dick Cheney, Kenneth L. Lay, and Jeffrey K. Skilling did?) and found our impecunious niche in teaching the liberal arts.

We're here and mostly liberal by practical deliberation, factual investigation, and rational and moral conviction. We don't mind the lower pay (well, not that much), but don't demean us, when most of our conservative critics would be hard-pressed to make anything remotely approaching the same claims. Remember that one of our most vigorous critics, Sarah Palin, was reportedly unclear about significant events in American history (the First World War? Hmm, lemme think ...) and had to be given grammar-school geography lessons by her campaign staff. But who knows, if Palin had more of a grounding in the liberal arts, she might have ... nah!

Jere P. Surber is a professor of philosophy at the University of Denver.

Comments

1. batchro - February 08, 2010 at 08:47 am

You have hit the nail on the head in outlining the major difference between liberal arts professors and those in other disciplines -- the emphasis on teaching and studying "interpretive reading, cogent writing, critical thinking, and a sense of a shared historical tradition and the major issues currently confronting our society and world."

Our colleagues in other fields probably would not agree that they place these items secondary to content, but it seems evident when teaching students from across disciplines. After a long career in the corporate world and now teaching for six years in a field that blurs the line between pre-professional and liberal art (journalism and mass communication), I see the outcome as represented by students who lack basic critical thinking or writing skills.

Their is a glaring disparity between critical thinkers and non-critical thinkers, yet we are surrounded by a system that rewards the “gut” reaction and decision, good grades over deep learning, and speed over meaning. This leaves college professors in a difficult situation: Does one help students become the kind of future leader who reacts or thinks? Clearly, the former is valued more in the work world than the latter.

The answer probably consists of knocking down walls between disciplines on one hand and creating a better K-12 system on the other. In emphasizing critical thinking skills, deep reading, etc., we realize that we don't just think differently than our colleagues, but also combat the test-based learning taking place before students get to college.

I've written more about this here: http://pr-bridge.com/2010/02/05/critical-thinking-and-the-end-of-wisdom/

2. 11211250 - February 08, 2010 at 08:51 am

Professor Surber: thanks so much for your article. Whether you or right or not, I don't know, but it's what I have felt all along. But some of your thoughts beg another question. Are they "naturally" liberal because their liberality is "according to the usual course of things" or because they are "by nature" (i.e., genetically predisposed) to liberalism. Philosophers, like yourself, tend to be right brainers; whereas scientists and accountants tend to be left brainers. So is there a correlation between where one is on the spectrum of "brain balance" as to whether or not they tend to be conservative or liberal. Wouldn't one expect that people who are predominantly left brainers tend to be in the math courses where everything fits neatly into boxes, while right brainers prefer to take arts and humanities courses. If by "nature" then one would expect to see a bell curve with the extremely left-brain folks at the one end of the curve and the extremely left brain folks at the other end of the curve, with the majority of folks tending more and more to a balanced brain. (It's ironic that the left brainers are right wingers and the left brains are left brainers. But that must be because left brainers tend to point with their right hand and left brainers with their left hand.) So if this is true what does that tell us about how to get votes? Well, I suppose that the "left leaning" politicians need to be more analytical, precise, and organized to attract "independents" (people in the middle of the bell curve), while "right leaning" politicians need to be more feeling ("hopey-changey" kinds of people as Sarah called liberals at the Tea Party Convention) and big-picture type of people to attract the middle. Hmmm, so can one conclude then that this should scientifically indicate to the Republican Party that it needs to be careful about going radically right (the Sarah-Paliney Tea-Partyey kinds of people). Not necessarily, because the independents seek balance so if the Obama administration actually goes more lefty-pinko the reaction will be for the center to pull back to the right. But we know that this kind of balancing act never works because people tend to over-react and cause the pendulum to swing to far the other way.

Gee, all of this is so clear on a Monday morning after the Super Bowl! This must be some kind of "universal field theory" of human and political being. I better get a patent on it quickly so I can make some money.

3. geopa58 - February 08, 2010 at 09:36 am

I'm guessing that one might place engineering faculty members after business and before natural scientists on the conservatism scale. That said, my experience is that a substantial majority of engineering faculty members lean liberal, at least on social matters.

4. livefreeordie2 - February 08, 2010 at 09:44 am

What a bunch of whiney rationalizations! The one thing that shows through in this piece is arrogance. Liberal arts professors are paid the least because that's what they are worth. That's not my decision to make, it's the decision of those who live in our society. Sorry, Charlie. . . that's the way it is. This is a meritocracy, it's just that some folks define "merit" solely by how utterly meaningful they believe their own skills and efforts to be, rather than the value attached by others. The old expression about "those who can do and those who can't teach" comes to mind in this way - those who can teach people to do something will get paid a substantially higher sum than those who can only teach people to teach. Of course, you know this. . .which is why your piece is so whiney. . . 'we're liberal because we're so much better, even if no one recognizes it but us. . .which makes us more liberal!'

And let me finish your sentence for you. If "Palin had more of a grounding in the liberal arts, she might have. . .realized there were 57 states in the US, or learn to speak "Austrian," or been able to see fallen heroes in the audience, or understood how funny it is to make fun of the Special Olympics and "retards," or possibly, just possibly, developed the type of extemporaneous speaking skills needed to use a teleprompter when talking with 6th graders.

5. racerboy - February 08, 2010 at 09:59 am

Well, livefreeordie2, you certainly would have benefitted from one of them librul arts classes in rhetoric, now, wouldn't you?

6. laplante - February 08, 2010 at 10:09 am

buh wah ha ha ha. livefreeordie2 [2?], you're killing me.

7. mjg6601 - February 08, 2010 at 10:46 am

Those benighed conservatives try to think their way out of a paper bag but just can't rise to the level of critical thinking. Here's some of the uncritical thinking done by conservatives just since WWII, courtesy of Heritage Foundation. Sheeesh, what losers.

1. The Second World War, Winston S. Churchill

Vol. 1, The Gathering Storm
Vol. 2, Their Finest Hour
Vol. 3, The Grand Alliance
Vol. 4, The Hinge of Fate
Vol. 5, Closing the Ring
Vol. 6, Triumph and Tragedy

2. The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

3. Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell

4. The Road to Serfdom, F. A. von Hayek

5. Collected Essays, George Orwell

6. The Open Society and Its Enemies, Karl Popper

7. The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis

8. Revolt of the Masses, José Ortega y Gasset

9. The Constitution of Liberty, F. A. von Hayek

10. Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman

11. Modern Times, Paul Johnson

12. Rationalism in Politics, Michael Oakeshott

13. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, Joseph A. Schumpeter

14. Economy and Society, Max Weber

15. The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt

16. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West

17. Sociobiology, Edward O. Wilson

18. Centissimus Annus, Pope John Paul II

19. The Pursuit of the Millennium, Norman Cohn

20. The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank

21. The Great Terror, Robert Conquest
Herman: "Documented for the first time the real record of Stalinism in the Soviet Union. A genuine monument of historical research and reconstruction, a true epic of evil."

22. Chronicles of Wasted Time, Malcolm Muggeridge

23. Witness, Whittaker Chambers

24. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn

25. Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis


8. physicist - February 08, 2010 at 11:22 am

I would love to hear would livefreeordie2 and like-minded individuals have to say about the author's main arguments. Livefreeordie2 talks a lot about the first reason that the author provides for why humanities faculty tend to be liberal -- they make less money, have less power, etc. -- but this argument just gets the discussion going, and surely the author is not suggesting that humanities faculty would actually CITE this as a reason for being liberal, or that it is a reason that is consciouly guiding faculty in their adoption of a certain point-of-view. I presume that the author is offering a subtle jab at humanities faculty by suggesting that money/power considerations are part of the causal story of why humanities faculty have some of the views that they do, even if the faculty themselves would point to other reasons. But livefreeordie2 does not consider the main arguments that the author puts forward, and it would be interesting to hear what he/she has to say in response, because they are the ones that carry weight (if the question is about what the reasons are in favor of a more liberal perspetive on reality, and whether these reasons are compelling). The main arguments have to do with what the relevant causal variables are when we analyze/examine some state of affairs. I take it that the author was arguing that we have just the foggiest understanding of an event if we do not understand its causal history -- for example (to take one out of the blue), whether or not someone can start their own small business, in home-improvement for example, is a matter of their having enough money to buy the basic equipment, or being able to get a loan, or living in a community where consumers would trust the person to be in their house during the day while they were at work (and leaving them the keys); and their ability to get a loan is a matter of having some collateral or a co-signer; and these are often a matter of whether the person's parents had an education or job, or whether they lived in a community (maybe in the 1960s or 70s) where consumers would do business with them (and of course the racial issues are obvious for that time and also in the present, esp. re: leaving keys to the house, trusting someone, etc.); and then these issues have to do with who owned houses and had collateral, who was able to get a jobn in the 1950s, etc.; all the way back of course to the question of who was able to squat on U.S. land (for free!) back in the 1800s, and who would be driven away at gunpoint, and who was able to then pass on that free land to future generations. In a highly competitive economy, these advantages are HUGE, and although it's possible for a very unusual person to try very hard and succeed in spite of the advantages of their competitors, their competitors don't have to be nearly as unusual/advanced to succeed themselves, and this all by no doing of their own. The liberal-minded humanities faculty member says that these causal variables are almost the whole story. The conservative-minded person does not want to think about the larger context and says that the reason why a given person fails is that they didn't try hard enough, or that they went to the bank and FAILED to get a loan, or that they FAILED secure enough customers for their home-improvement business, but in fact their competition (who surely worked hard also) was not in the same situation at all. Do conservatives want to trace things back just one step? This is like a physicist saying that the reason why the rock is in the location that it is is that another rock budged it, and not because of much larger causal variables like laws of gravity, where the bodies (or their material particles) were 100 years ago, other laws of physics. That would be an embarrassing explanation for a physicist. For the conservative, it's also really self-serving. Yay me!! I did it all on my own!

9. livefreeordie2 - February 08, 2010 at 11:56 am

Physicist - I find the main body of the author's argument to be arrogant nonsense - just as I find with yours. If one wishes to make a serious argument, then there is no need to engage in unprovoked ridicule. Neither you nor the author have taken one second to consider that conservative thought, that conservative values, may actually have validity or that it to has a firm foundation in history and philosophy. So rather than come to understand conservative principles and propose counter-arguments for those aspects with which you disagree, you simply say things like "the conservative-minded person does not want to think about the larger context. . ." Oh really? Like those who thought the world was flat, you are so certain of your own correctness that you don't even consider evidence to the contrary.

The kind of arguments proposed by the original author and those in your mind-numbingly incoherent opinion do not merit serious consideration because they reek of arrogance and, quite frankly, ignorance. Hope that answers your question! I realize this is next to impossible for a liberal, but come back for a meaningful discussion when you can drop the arrogant nonsense and discuss the differences intelligently.

10. tribblek - February 08, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Please, mjg6601 or livefreeordie2, argue a point! I am not ready to believe that right-leaning people cannot pick up a point and argue it. Perhaps the right-leaning individuals that read Chronicle are not inclusive of the population.

livefreeordie2 simply keeps saying "because I perceive your tone as whiney and arrogant, your arguments aren't worth refuting." And sorry, mjg6601, but a list of interesting books isn't necessarily a point. Are we to assume that all of those people would identify themselves as consertaives in today's culture? And -- even if we take your implication at face value -- what is your point... that you can identify exceptions to the author's rule? That's not a point.

11. rachelgawn - February 08, 2010 at 12:30 pm

"This is a meritocracy . . ." No, it's not.

12. racerboy - February 08, 2010 at 12:52 pm

"The kind of arguments proposed by the original author and those in your mind-numbingly incoherent opinion do not merit serious consideration because they reek of arrogance and, quite frankly, ignorance."

Something about cookware and shades of darkness. If you'd like us to take you and your political proclivities seriously, stop the ad hominem attacks and, as tribblek says, make a legitimate point. At the moment you're providing fine evidence of the right's alleged vacuity and inability to engage in substantive discussions. Entertaining, but embarrassing.

13. authentic - February 08, 2010 at 01:02 pm

Of course Academe is liberal. You are the clever sillies who employ abstract philosophy and abjure common sense.

14. greeneyeshade - February 08, 2010 at 01:17 pm

Sarah Palin is Surber's prime example of a consevative intellectual?

Oh come on, professor! mjg6601 (#7) pretty well demonstrates your ridiculous bias.

And liberals have a lock on "practical deliberation, factual investigation, and rational and moral conviction?" That's pure fantasy. And more than a little head-in-the-sand arrogance.

15. sqrtnegone - February 08, 2010 at 01:19 pm

I've observed that pretty much anything livefreeordie2 posts is arrogant nonsense. These posts consist of attacks on anyone or anything that does wholeheartedly mesh with his/her special brand of conservatism; while at the same time accusing others of engaging in attacks. Unless there is a person named livefreeordie1 it would appear that this individual has been kicked off of this website once before, what a shock. Maybe you should refrain from projecting.

16. greenhills73 - February 08, 2010 at 01:19 pm

So you think you have more "advanced study" than a physician? From high school to practice level, an oral surgeon, for example, requires 14 or more years of education (depending on the program). How many years do you have?

17. torquemada - February 08, 2010 at 01:27 pm

There is plenty of resentment among academics about their meager salaries and this could well be a source of leftist opinion. But there are plenty of wealthy leftist academics as well. I have always thought that most leftists are simply mentally disturbed. This is based on 40 years of university teaching.

18. lisalita - February 08, 2010 at 01:59 pm

What I wrote to the author before I realized I could get a free account:

I find myself quite unconvinced by your arguments as to why most liberal-arts professors are liberal.

1. Those who have less and want more will tend to support social changes that promise to accomplish that; those who are already economic winners will want to conserve their status.

This, of course, presupposes the liberal view that the machine of social change is the government, which needs to redistribute wealth. Another way for someone who has less to get more is to find a higher-paying profession, no? And to do what it takes to get there.

As you may have guessed, I am a conservative, with a liberal-arts PhD. And it doesn't strike me as a delightful thing to have professors paid by civil service rank! And if I wanted to make a lot of money I would take up a different profession.

2. Liberal-arts professors tend to be politically liberal because they have studied large-scale historical processes and complex cultural dynamics.

Sorry, so have we conservatives.

3. Most liberal-arts professors understand that values inevitably conflict and they have developed skills to interpret these clashes with nuance.

I'm afraid that my personal experience does not in the least uphold this finding. I know many professors in the liberal arts who are anything but nuanced in their reactions to differences of opinion; rather, they are absolutely convinced that they hold the moral and intellectual high ground in every disagreement and they have contempt for opinions that differ from their own. This is the very worst thing about the liberal professoriate and you do not address it in your column. Instead you attribute high-mindedness and a serene neutrality to those I see displaying very different traits.

Academic liberals are really a failure of the educational system you claim has created them as a superior class of thinkers. I suppose psychology, which you leave out of your analysis, must play a role. To me it is clearly a problem in academia that a group of sentimental and sloppy thinkers--typically without even a rudimentary understanding of economics--imagine they have through their own merits arrived at an understanding of the world that escapes the rest of us. When you brought up the Persian Wars you neglected to mention the hubris of Xerxes. I think that characterizes liberal academia more accurately than your portrait of the serene liberal philosopher. More humility all around would do much more good than the self-congratulations you offer us.

19. livefreeordie2 - February 08, 2010 at 02:04 pm

Tribbek - I was not the original author. I made a point. The article was nonsense. As was Physicist's opinion. That is the only point worth making on either piece. I understand, though. . . I'm not making the point or points YOU think I should. Surber created a framework with his piece and you want me to submit to that framework. Sorry. . . I won't do that. Just as with the question, "When did you stop beating your wife," there is no satisfactory response possible. I'm not going to try to answer leftist cliches. That would be an exercise in futility. I think, by the way, it's telling that you simply dismiss the list of books above. It has nothing to do, Tribbek, with how the authors of those books would identify themselves today. It's the content of the books themselves. . . the principles contained in the writings. It's the ideas that are important, that have the ability to survive millennia when the authors have long since died. That you don't get that, however, does not surprise me.

Racerboy - Hardly. If you go back to my response to Physicist, you'll see I was speaking of "unprovoked ridicule." I was pretty clear about that. I thought that Surber pretty damned snotty and so was physicist, so I gave it back to them. As for whether you take what I have to say seriously, I make the same point to you that I just made to Tribbek. The only way liberals will take what I say seriously is if I say what they want to hear. Modern liberalism is an exercise in intellectual laziness and vapidity. It's the easy way. . .it takes no thought, only feeling. There are no core beliefs, no respect for the individual, and damn sure no respect for private property. It is, in fact, the antithesis of true liberalism. . . of classical liberalism.

Sqrtnegone - I'm willing to discuss anything calmly and thoughtfully. That you've seen me on the attack is a only because I am one conservative who will not buckle to leftist ridicule and will not couch my words to gain liberal approval. My "special brand of conservatism" can be found in the writings of many authors, but is summed up best by the Constitution of the United States. Like the founding fathers, I believe in limited government. I believe in respect for individual liberty and the freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights. Oh. . .and I have no use for whiney liberals who think they should have more than they deserve and don't want to do anything to earn it.

20. 11211250 - February 08, 2010 at 02:26 pm

An auto mechanic who takes 15 years of advanced auto mechanics is still an auto mechanic. It doesn't make an auto mechanic a better citizen, it doesn't help him (or her) become a better human being, it doesn't provide a breadth of knowledge about human history and an understanding of the human condition, it doesn't make him a more compassionate person, it doesn't inspire transcendence, it doesn't make him wise. Auto mechanics and physicians are taught a profession, the liberal arts teaches people to learn how to learn. Forget all that conservative vs. liberal stuff. I'd rather see well balanced individuals who are just and caring. Anyone who is in an us versus them state of mind has already lost the battle.

21. defwilson - February 08, 2010 at 02:43 pm

As much as I'd like to agree with this argument since it affirms that my own view of the world is the correct one (and I do think that compensation is part of the issue, but find the suggestion that I might be liberal because I want to be paid more to be way off), the second part of the argument really boils down to the same answer that Rush Limbaugh gave on William Shatner's 'Raw Nerve' when asked how he can be so certain of himself: because he reads a lot. It's easy enough to laugh at Sarah Palin (though I don't find anything funny about her at all) but what about those conservatives who are every bit as smart and well-read as the liberal intellectuals I admire? Which authority do I choose?

As someone in political science, I'm all too familiar with claims to superior knowledge of what makes the social world tick. But centuries of promises to unlock the doors to an objective explanation of politics--and thus solve our political problems--have come to nothing. And I, for one, didn't get the news concerning the great agreement on the good life.

It's curious that in the third part of the argument Professor Surber writes plainly that values always conflict, but doesn't appear to consider (unless I misunderstand) that they always do because they can't be reconciled by marshalling more brainpower, or doing another study. It's just too facile to decide that people who disagree with us must do so out of ignorance or narrow vision. No amount of reason can demonstrate the superiority of one set of values, or which values are more important than others. I can't be understood to claim that reason is a waste of time or anything like it. Only that we're misdirecting our energies if we think we can, through instruction, finally put away fundamental differences in our interpretations of the best human life, which are still quite varied and contradictory.

The point made by mjg6601 is a good enough one, but the list itself is absurd. George Orwell? And what does the Heritage Foundation make of E.O. Wilson's views on evolution, religion?

22. hawg123 - February 08, 2010 at 03:05 pm

It boils down to this...liberal teachers:

1) Don't make as much money as other people because they're not as smart. They were the dumbest kids going into college, therefore they took the easiest degree, therefore they get paid the least.

2) Don't understand complex issues like economics and political realities. They actually believe raising taxes on the rich brings more money into the gov and don't understand how it negatively affects the economy, thus reducing overall tax revenue. Too complex for them. Same with raising the minimum wage, etc... Despite all the studies showing how it puts people out of work, the dynamics are too complicated for them to understand.

3) Don't know enough to understand how little they know. In a nutshell they're just not smart enough to understand complex interactions.

23. hawg123 - February 08, 2010 at 03:08 pm

Look at the incoming SAT scores of freshmen and compare them to degrees earned. The bottom rungs are occupied by psychology degrees, education degrees, and liberal arts degrees. Dregs of the college society who think they're brilliant because they managed to muddle their way through the easiest degrees you can get.

24. 11132507 - February 08, 2010 at 03:12 pm

11211250 (comment #20) summed it up perfectly: "Forget all that conservative vs. liberal stuff. I'd rather see well balanced individuals who are just and caring. Anyone who is in an us versus them state of mind has already lost the battle."

Just read some of these posts...and we wonder, whichever side of this country's political chasm we're on, why people outside academe think we're a bunch of self-important blowhards? Get over yourselves, people.

Sadly, this is representative of the "I'm always right, you're always wrong" gridlock that is crippling this country. Sometimes I fear the battle is lost until the Baby Boomers aren't in charge anymore, because we never learned how to play nice with people who might commit the unpardonable sin of disagreeing with us.

25. jaejeb - February 08, 2010 at 03:31 pm

I agree with 11132507.

And while I appreciate the author's arguments, they're half-baked, too much ego. This because of one article, yet journalists are chastised for looking at an alternate view. In my opinion, and based on what we know of journalists, most are liberal for some of the same reasons that the author stated about liberal arts professors; low pay (usually much lower than a professor), an exposure to history (as it unfolds) and closeness to conditions of humanity. Chastising the wrong crowd, here!

26. atheistconservative - February 08, 2010 at 03:43 pm

There are few things more hilarious than the constant assertion by left-wingers that Conservatives are "stupid", "not intellectually curious", or any other condescending put-down they can imagine to build up their own ego. So it's not surprising that in order to reinforce this point they need to incorrectly portray Conservative thought - for example, portraying the populist Sarah Palin as a "Conservative intellectual" and ignoring bright lights such as George Will, or William F. Buckley, or Charles Krauthammer, or indeed the entire staff at National Review or Reason or The Heritage Foundation ...

I originally believed that this was just sheer dishonesty, but now understand what it is: projection founded in ignorance. See, most left-wingers don't know about Conservative intellectuals because left-wingers are not intellectually curious people. They are, for want of a better term, pack rats. This is why the pursue things like 'liberal arts', where they can be molded and shaped into a specific world view - given a set curriculum and graded on how they think based strictly upon their conformity to an agreed-upon narrative.

So yes, of course you're liberals - because you go through an indoctrination program with strong ties to an entitlement system (tenure). And, as the author points out, that program's express purpose is to further a myth with roots in the most base human emotion in existence: envy.

The popular myth is that Conservatives are anti-intellectual. In reality, the situation is the exact opposite: left-wingers are impractical.

27. new_theologian - February 08, 2010 at 04:03 pm

Now that I have managed to take my finger out of my throat, let me get to the point. The author is a Marxist. I don't mean that in a derogatory sense--even though I think it is fundamentally an inadequate perspective on reality. I mean it in a purely philosophical sense. He advances a decidedly Marxist line of reasoning. History has a trajectory toward redistribution from rich to poor, in the advancement of a "classless society." This historical march is inevitable, even if, in the microcosmic sphere, we can delay it or accelerate its progress. There is no "original sin" to explain alienation or suffering, just material inequity. Material circumstance is the root of all movement, the first "thesis" in the great cosmic dialectic leading to a quazi-spiritualized (utopian) material state.

Actually, this is a very intelligent perspective, and potentially very consistent. It can certainly be argued, even to the extent that Marx theorized that the natural end of democracy would socialism--that democracy would eventually just end up collectively opting for socialism. It's arguable, but, in the end, I think it's wrong.

I just don't buy the presuppositions in the Marxist view--that matter is the root reality. I don't buy it, so the argument can't be demonstrative to me. Could it be so? Without getting into any sophisticated critique of Marxism as a philosophical system, let's just say, "Sure, logically speaking, it could be true." But is it obviously true? No. Of course not. There are lots of excellent reasons to think that spirit is prior to matter--that there is a transcendent reality over the material, which exerts influence over the direction of the material universe, in the lives of individual persons, and in the historical unfolding of human culture.

In the end, the author's argument consists, essentially in a tautology. He argues that liberal arts professors are political liberals because they are Marxists. That doesn't sound like an explanation to me at all.

28. steveharris - February 08, 2010 at 04:07 pm

No critical thinking in Calculus II? Not so when I teach it!

In my school, the natural sciences are part of the liberal arts. The traditional division is between liberal arts and the "professional" schools: engineering, business, medicine, law.

Also in my school, the humanities are not noticeably more liberal than the natural sciences. Nor are the natural sciences faculty paid more handsomely than the those in the humanities, and the vast majority of us in the natural sciences have no government grants (indeed, there are more grants--mostly internal--going to humanities than natural sciences faculty).

So I take strong exception with the broad strokes drawn by the author, characterizing the different faculties. My university does list liberal, but decidedly not for the reasons in this essay. Explanations having to do with the political cast of mind that goes hand in hand with willingly getting a liberal-arts salary as compensation for one's education and research activities, might well have place in this--but that manifestly includes natural sciences.

29. kerrykind - February 08, 2010 at 04:12 pm

Surber writes: "It is because we liberal-arts professors . . . have trained ourselves to think in complex, nuanced, and productive ways about the human condition that so many of us are liberals." So their thinking is more complex, more nuanced than the rest of us ankle-dwellers! Well, it is certainly more self-congratulatory. And Surber is typical, not the exception.
He brought Obama into the discussion, who has a similar view of the lack of complexity and the lack of nuance in the views of those who disagree with him (see: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2010/02/05/dont_they_understand_massachusetts.html).

30. sqrtnegone - February 08, 2010 at 04:17 pm

The problem is, with both sides, that the extremists are the ones spouting off most of the time. As a result nothing but name-calling and posturing occur. Neither side is entirely correct, nor are they entirely wrong.

Take, for example, taxation. A far-left person would argue that the rich should be taxed because they can afford it more than anyone, a fairly weak argument. A far-right person would argue that taxing the rich is bad because it has a negative effect on the economy, equally weak. In reality both viewpoints are simplistic, and ignore reality in favor of ideology. The debate over minimum wage is similarly hampered by people who cling to ideology versus logic. In both cases there is a point of diminished returns that can be determined mathematically by using real data.

31. 11272784 - February 08, 2010 at 04:21 pm

My observation is that conservatives tend to believe in simplistic solutions, and liberals don't. Human behavior cannot be reduced to predictable formulas, which is why the simple tax structures and mandatory sentencing laws favored by conservatives are quickly shown to be bad ideas. Liberals understand from the start that the world is not black & white but always grey, and human behavior and the resulting changes in the world come in an uncounted number of shades of grey. Academics are the group which perhaps understand this near-infinite variability best of any group in society, but the general tendencies are still there.

32. batchro - February 08, 2010 at 04:38 pm

Dr. Surber is replying to the NYT piece, which puts his Chronicle readers at a disadvantage (if they haven't read the article). He is offering an opinion based on what he sees in academe that counters the NYT essay.

As I wrote this morning, the main point he is delivering is:

"Rather, academe leans left because it takes a proportionally significant number of liberal-arts professors to hone the basic intellectual skills that we expect of college graduates: things like interpretive reading, cogent writing, critical thinking, and a sense of a shared historical tradition and the major issues currently confronting our society and world. If those abilities and insights aren't addressed by the liberal arts, then they certainly won't be in Introduction to Finance, Calculus II, or Biochemistry."

Rather than argue this point, respondents are interested in discussing salaries and political parties. Shouldn't we be analyzing who addresses "basic intellectual skills" instead? If we cut through the rhetoric, is what Surber says true? This seems like a much more critical point.

33. 11234450 - February 08, 2010 at 04:39 pm

"Those who have less and want more will tend to support social changes that promise to accomplish that; those who are already economic winners will want to conserve their status."

There is a great truth in this statement. All human beings are rational mazimizers who want to improve their life.

However, there are two sectors of society, government and the economic sector. In the economic sector, the desire to earn more manifests in producing something better or at a lower price. Hence by giving a consumer more for less, a producer gets wealthier. It is a win-win game.

However, in the government sector, or in an institution run like a government where you work for a hierarchy, you can only increase your pay through a redistribution scheme. You have to take more of the budget for yourself at the expense of someone else. You have a zero-sum game.

So one can clearly understand why liberal arts professors are Marxist based on short-term self interest, and one can also understand why such people would become Lenin's "Vanguard of the Workers," even though they were all paid intellectuals aimed at exploiting the working class. We can also understand how Stalin came to consider this class of intellectuals a threat to power and had them liquidated and replaced by more loyal people who would carry out orders--those who came to be the nomenklatura.

Universities are probably the last sector of society, except the government, where such hierarchies continue to exist. There structure is going to be changed by the pressure of new technologies.

Liberal arts professors, to the extent they will have a long-term future, will need to perform a better job of social analysis than projecting their own short-term interests and and short-sighted redistribution schemes, if they want large populations, who want their economies to grow, to take them seriously. They will need to develop sounder principles of political economy that show ways that the excesses of present society can be leveraged into social improvement without relying solely on theories of redistribution that, by themselves, cannot sustain a society--in fact inevitable lead it to tyranny.

34. cal35 - February 08, 2010 at 04:40 pm

I was actually kind of baffled by this article as in the NY Times and here. This subject was addressed in Lenski (1954) and generally taught widely in Introduction to Sociology courses, as I have for a decade or more. Just to let you know it has been 'researched' for a long time. Interesting research and fun to teach in introductory classes.

35. greeneyeshade - February 08, 2010 at 04:49 pm

Contrast Surber's pov with this from the Washington Post over the weekend:

Gerard Alexander: Why are liberals so condescending?

http://tinyurl.com/yjz3rt8

36. ledzep - February 08, 2010 at 05:07 pm

In any other context liberal arts scholars would recognize the problem with this argument:

We've written all the history.
The history we've written makes us disagree with Group X, which hasn't written as much history.
So we're right. End of story.

So in addition to the fact that conservatives do in fact write and study history (the ones who do are just written out of the discussion as scary bogeymen - ooh, Straussians! It must be some kind of cult! Warmongers!), there's an objection here that should be obvious to anyone who has sniffed any notion of criticism.

Furthermore, and this is probably the central flaw here, the blithe simplicity of the "right side of history" point is simply ridiculous. As if liberalism, much less liberalism-progressivism in America at this particular time, is just identical with concern for the disadvantaged. How does that tell you what to think about federalism? Does it favor an interventionary foreign policy, confident that it's on the right side of history? (I think not. But why not, if we know which side history is on? Is military intervention more complicated than comprehensive social programs? Not obviously.) Does liberalism as right-side-of-history-ism overwhelmingly favor economic growth? After all, that's what's responsible for most of the improvement in living standards around the world over the past few hundred years. Are liberals therefore big fans of the Club for Growth? Does the history of dominant groups' designating others as non-humans or non-persons make liberals sympathetic to restrictions on abortion? Or does reading a bunch of history make it obvious that fetuses are, in fact, non-persons? Funny, I didn't think that was a historical argument. Basically this just overshoots every interesting political dispute out there right now. There is such a thing as political philosophy, and it is underdetermined by a study of history. That should be completely and utterly uncontroversial for liberal arts scholars!

As far as the nuance and complexity of the world, and the supposed love of conservatives for simplistic solutions, the problem with this argument is that liberalism of any stripe depends on basic optimism about the capacities of the administrative state. The people who take complexity most seriously are more likely to have libertarian or federalist leanings. That might enter into this analysis (and some of the comments) if it (and they) had a less caricatured notion of what conservatism is and includes.

Look, given the fact that most academics are liberal, if you really want to take the measure of conservatism's intellectual seriousness, in general, you should probably look at the (lamentably small, to be sure) number of people who are serious scholars or policy thinkers, and have conservative tendencies of one kind or other. You should look at what they read, you should inquire about their conceptual framework, and their take on the trajectory of history, etc. In that case you'd be talking about a motley crew composed of libertarian types, economists, wonk-bloggers like Reihan Salaam and Megan McArdle, philosophers like Alasdair MacIntyre, political scientists and military historians (yes, historians!) like Charles Kesler (on American political history and philosophy), and Victor Davis Hanson (on military history). You would take seriously the migration of some civil-rights activists to the right on abortion, for example, and the similarity of non-personhood arguments in that context to arguments in past contexts of dehumanization efforts. But it's all too easy to say, 'well, they don't have any academics, so it's fair game to just take Karl Rove, Jerry Falwell and Sarah Palin as exemplars here.' Nothing interesting comes out of such discussion, for obvious reasons.

GIVEN that conservatives are mostly outside of the academy, it's no surprise that anti-intellectualism is a problem for it. It doesn't follow that there aren't serious conservative ideas, or that there is no such thing as a conservative intellectual tradition. This kind of analysis is in large part nothing more than a lazy excuse to ignore that tradition. As a partisan matter, it doesn't make sense for liberals to go out of their way to rehabilitate and explore conservative ideas, but as an academic matter it's quite a different question. It's that, rather than percentages of party allegiance, that is most significant on this topic. There are serious conservative ideas and ways of thinking about politics and society, but the academy, in its general culture, acts as if there aren't, and takes the lack of intellectual sophistication in movement conservatism as license to ignore the tradition. That's partisan, not academic behavior.

The list of books above in the comments does, pace some of the commenters, have a point, as I take it. (I did not post it.) Whether or not each author is identical with current movement conservatism is beside the point, and that should be obvious. If there are serious ideas that are broadly conservative, or align with certain elements of conservatism, then that tells against the simplistic analysis in this post, and against the argument that simply reading and writing history just naturally makes one liberal. Zingers about E.O. Wilson's social views are totally irrelevant. We're talking about categories in a two-party system. Pointing out differences and overlap just confirms that there are actually ideas out there. Does anybody here think that the presence of hawks and doves in the Democratic Party amounts to an argument for the incoherence of liberalism? Of course not, but cheap points like this are taken to be dispositive when conservativism is the subject of discussion.

37. eharrell - February 08, 2010 at 05:09 pm

No "critical thinking" or "shared historical tradition" in science classes? Ludicrous.

38. ledzep - February 08, 2010 at 05:11 pm

BTW, I'm not a Straussian - just in case anybody has moral qualms about associating with those kind of people.

39. ledzep - February 08, 2010 at 05:25 pm

Amen, eharrell, amen.

Another gem:

"Despite all the panicky alarms sounded not so long ago by some conservatives against the "relativism," if not "nihilism," implicit in the (alleged) poststructuralist hijacking of the liberal arts, it turns out that there has proved to be much more agreement on what constitutes the good life than most of the critics realized. Or maybe they have realized: It is, just as they charge, some sort of a broadly liberal point of view."

Conservatives have never doubted that there is a common culture of academia!! On the contrary! The more sensationalist the critics, the more they have played up and exaggerated the idea the academics have their own worldview and conception of the good, which they seek to inculcate in the public at large.

The fact that a group of theorists broadly agree in practice on what the good life is, is not at all the same thing as having a theoretical basis sufficient to account either for that agreement or for the normative assumptions that are part of it. It's not even the same as being aware of the assumptions behind that agreement, and how far those assumptions are or should be shared by others. That's called distinguishing what is obvious to the theorist from what follows from the theory (to use Jerry Fodor's phrase). Your nuanced thinking is not impressing here, Prof. Surber.

On that note, being in philosophy, as I am, you realize that scholars in our field tend to be much less sympathetic to relativism of various stripes than right-wing academy-critics would have it. On the other hand, my experience in an interdisciplinary humanities program suggests that philosophers, when in the position of defending academia as a whole, are too sanguine about the health of the humanities in general after postmodernism. It's not usually polite to talk about it in these contexts (united front against the Philistines!), but much academic discourse in the humanities would meet with a rather chilly reception from a readership of philosophers, who might very well say very mean things about coherence and meaning, and the lack thereof.

40. ledzep - February 08, 2010 at 05:33 pm

In a nutshell, there's a big difference between the position that conservatism, as it currently exists in the American political arena, is not fit to govern. Many plausible things can be said on behalf of that position. But that's not at all the same thing as this kind of general claim, making no reference to anything specific about our historical situation or place, that somehow it's just obvious that anything that could ever fall under the category of conservatism is naturally eschewed by all careful thinkers and readers of history. Notice that in most other contexts, humanities scholars would call this a prime example of lazy essentialism - conservativism is just defined, always and forever, as not-X, where X is the conjunction of all the unarguable conclusions a careful thinker and reader of history has to come to.

41. catalyzer - February 08, 2010 at 05:37 pm

One of my pet peeves is the way liberal has come to mean everyone on the left. Absolutely not. Most of those on the far left would not characterize themselves as liberals. Marxist does not equal liberal; Marx provided a template for the critique of liberalism. Perhaps the author of the article could do more to unpack the relation of "liberal arts" to "liberals"--is the liberal in liberal arts really the same liberal of the self-identified liberal? The current lack of critical and historical understanding of liberalism reminds me of the way the term socialist gets bandied about willy-nilly. Yes, I understand asking for precision around terms in this day and age is a losing proposition . . .

42. lee_otis - February 08, 2010 at 07:32 pm

I missed the New York Times story to which this piece refers. Does anyone have the date or even better, a link? Thanks much.

43. drhypersonic - February 08, 2010 at 07:42 pm

Never mind his bias against conservatives--Professor Surber does liberals no favors either with his blatantly elitist blather directed towards other academicians whose specialties happen to differ from his own. His argument--"well, naturally we're liberal"--doesn't sound so nice or convincing if one replace liberal with other words: "well, naturally we're racist;" "well, naturally we're fascists;" "well, naturally we're sexists." A world in which a professor can demean others "just because" what they believe so cavalierly is not an academic one. His stridency calls into serious question just how dedicated Professor Surber is to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of academic inquiry. His thinking sadly reminds one of the kind of "everyone knows" prejudice that for years kept African-Americans in the back of buses, women in the home, and Jews out of faculty departments. His portrayal of conservativism is laughable on its face, and pernicious at its core. No decent conservative historians or thinkers? Try Paul Johnson for just one, professor; he's Number 11 on the fine little reading list #7 (mjg6601)has so helpfully offered up to open your closed mind. Finally, it is very curious why Professor Surber is so obviously insecure in the presence of other academics of differing backgrounds that he has to loudly trumpet his supposedly rigorous education and all-encompassing intellect. One wonders what his colleagues and students think of a person so obviously self-absorbed, condescending, and parochial in attitude.

44. zefelius - February 08, 2010 at 10:32 pm

This dialogue is informative and fascinating. Although I must say I am somewhat surprised my all of the ad hominem attacks. Before I started contributing to this forum just a couple of weeks ago, I assumed naively that the level of discourse would be rather civil and respectful. For the last year I have also contributed to another forum for a videogame called Civilization Revolution (with almost 1000 comments---yikes!). Those players have all sorts of disputes about strategy and statistics, and even on such rarefied disciplines as history and philosophy. Sometimes you get the big egos and "trollers" who like to spice things up with some trash talk, but by comparison I am starting to think that this web site tends to be more vitriolic. I suppose that gives the debates a bit of a passionate jolt, which shouldn't be underestimated. But somehow I'm still surprised that the level of discourse is often more bitter and antagonistic than what I have found to be the case on a videogame forum.

45. martythehound - February 09, 2010 at 12:20 am

livefreeordie2 stated: "Liberal arts professors are paid the least because that's what they are worth."

That's odd. I'm a fine arts professor at a liberal arts college and I make almost double the salary of my similarly-ranked colleagues at two conservative-arts colleges (Bob Jones U. and BYU)

I guess professors at conservative arts colleges are paid such low salaries because that's what they are worth.

46. cb_10 - February 09, 2010 at 12:41 am

It's impossible to take Surber's self-congratulatory and circular contentions seriously. Pointing to "critical thinking" skills and "nuanced" thinking could be described from another viewpoint as relying upon rationalizations and unverifiable argumentation, and this is accepting certain liberal arts fields and theories on their own terms. Surber's own field, philosophy for example, doesn't necessarily point to a specific set of philosophical answers, much less political ones. What would a philosopher know about complex historical systems that many students of the including natural and social sciences, and even many business graduates not know? Beyond the history of philosophy, which in the 20th century includes the quiant notion (though by no means a conclusive one) that philosophy is generally useless for addressing problems of existence beyond language (and admittedly this is a simplification of the idea).

Moreso, Surber ignores the fact that the academy has in the last 30-40 years become very accomodating to the left. Many conservatives (but not all, obviously) have avoided the academy because participating means dealing with a good deal of left-wing groupthink that has become more and more pervasive on some (but again, not all) campuses. Some of this comes in the form of speech codes. Some of it comes in the form of departments hiring politically like-minded people. All of this is to the great detriment of what is supposed to be the great strength of liberal arts programs: exposing young thinkers to a wide variety of perspectives and ideas. What Surber demonstrates most conclusively of all is the arrogant source of this mindset, a politically (as opposed to intellectually) -minded perspective that rests upon an obnoxious certainty in the intellectual superiority of one political perspective (ignoring the multiplicity of different ways in which individual people, including most conservatives, view the individual issues, for example, I'm pro-life and opposed to capital punishment) based on the assumption that the political perspective was developed as a result of all the "liberal arts learning" that individuals encountered in colleges and universities.

On the contrary, more and more the students who are exposed to higher education are conditioned to accept a particular mind set, a mind set advanced by politically-minded individuals some of whom have chosen their vocation in part because of the opportunity to affect political change, some who have recognized the opportunity to affect such change as a part of their roles within the academy, and some who unconsciously advance such change by either insisting on or failing to resist the academy groupthink mentality.

Let me be clear that there are many, hardworking liberal professors who are interested in broadening their students' viewpoints and giving them space to think creatively and rigorously about the world around them. However, there are also many well-meaning liberals (and a few conservatives) whose idea of broadening horizons proceeds from the perspective that students enter the academy ignorant and provencial reactionaries, and must be exposed to liberal ideas by default, in order to complete their education.

This combination of assumptions converges in the assumed intellectual superiority and cosmopolitan experience of professional academics. In reality, it is this blinkered attitude, so well drawn in Surber's opinion piece, that is among the most provencial and ill-informed of all, and slowly but surely, it is killing the academy.

47. cb_10 - February 09, 2010 at 01:11 am

One other thing, only because it's a pet peeve of mine, and that is the assumption of the superiority of "intellectualism." Certainly, we need intellectuals to do necessary work in the realm of ideas (but simply being in the academy does not confer the status of intellectual to an individual, IMHO - that depends on the originality and value of the ideas being proffered) but this doesn't automatically confer superiority to them or to the ideas themselves. Often, those who would claim the mantle of "intellectual" are good at (or at the very least, comfortable with) the use of language to present justifications for their viewpoints, but this doesn't always translate into those ideas being rigorous or verifiable.

48. parispundit - February 09, 2010 at 02:28 am

Most of this is just plain wrong. The best-paid liberal arts professors, the ones at the elite universities, are the ones who are the most left-wing. And no, European intellectuals in the liberal arts are not more conservative than those in the US. And of course, there have been many great conservative historians and thinkers, although I don;t think I'd call Orwell a conservative, as was done above. There are much better explanations than Surber's, or the Times' to be found elsewhere, notably in Kahan's recent Mind vs. Money: The War Between Intellectuals and Capitalism.

49. supertatie - February 09, 2010 at 07:50 am

As far as I am concerned, anyone who cites Barack Obama and the "right side of history" and then uses that as proof of the triumph of Leftist ideologies has betrayed his or her ignorance more successfully than any ad hominem attack ever could.

The idea of "conservatism" is not "conserving what one has," it is the recognition of human nature and enduring principles. For example, the principle - proven throughout history again and again - that people crave power, and once they have it, will us it to oppress anyone with whom they disagree.

Professors who profess to be liberal will pretend that the Leftist ideologies they drool over are different, ignore the 100 million or so bodies stacked up like cordwood in pursuit of Leftist utopias, and then demonize and drum out of the academy anyone who disagrees with them, accusing them of knowing no history.

The American Revolution was not founded on Leftist ideologies, but on values and principles that conservatives view as enduring, including the human desire for freedom. It was accompanied by the recognition - again, based upon a study of history and human nature - that freedom has consequences, particularly when it comes without self-discipline and self-restraint. Among those consequences is failure, personal and societal.

What we are seeing in this country now are the consequences of personal freedom without self-discipline. Our inner cities are little third world countries, populated by teenage mothers, fatherless children, drug users, and roving gangs of murderous, uncivilized teenage boys who "grow up" (IF they grow up, and IF you want to call what they do "growing up") to be shiftless and unaccountable men who do little more than create more of the same.

Liberals' ideas of proper public policy responses to this situation are just as irrational and ahistorical as their political viewpoints.

Which reveals another reasons why professors are "liberals." Leftist ideologies are all about theory, and none of their adherents care whether or how they work in practice. Communism not working out so well for you? Well, just murder, enslave, starve or throw into prison camps a few million more people, and you'll get it right eventually. Is welfare and the breakdown of the family creating social strife? Well just throw more money at the same bad decisions, and the situation will get better.

That is the difference between "experience," which is based in the real world, and "expertise," which can be theoretical, and which professors have in spades. Anyone with "business" expertise knows that theories are fine, but if you're wrong, you go out of business. In academe, if you're wrong, you get tenure.

And if you're REALLY WRONG, but you've got a White House cabinet post, then the country throws hundreds of billions of dollars into your cockamamie ideas.

But not to worry. Because history has told liberals that entire countries, like entire industries, are "too big too fail."

50. sqrtnegone - February 09, 2010 at 09:25 am

I am curious, is the attempt to paint all left-leaning or right-leaning people with a broad brush caused by a lack of intelligence or a mindless adherence to a faulty ideology?

51. zachgarber - February 09, 2010 at 11:58 am

1) Liberal Arts profs may not make as much as the business school or science profs, but their salaries still far outshine the private sector. $50 to start may not be a lot of money (and liberal arts profs make more with time, tenure, and promotion), but it is a very nice living and the fringe benefits of an academic's schedule are excellent.

2) Aside from the salary discussion, there is no argument in this essay. There is simply the declaration that the thinking of liberals is morally and intellectually superior, and therefore liberal thinking should be disseminated. That the liberal academy was wrong about Fascism, Communism, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot (Chomsky anyone?), welfare, the Great Society and more is ignored.

3) My counter NON-argument is that conservative thinking is morally and intellectually superior and should be disseminated. I provide the same evidence as Surber, which is none.

4) This essay supports the complaints that conservatives are underrepresented in liberal arts departments because liberal professors run those departments and do not find conservatives qualified to teach in the liberal arts simply because conservatives are not liberal.

5) Thank you to Surber for writing this essay. His honesty supports what conservatives academics have been saying for years: liberal professors know, by fiat, that they are morally and intellectually superior, and for that reason and none other conservatives can be shunned in the liberal arts. Outstanding! Way to contradict the assertion that liberals are open minded. I hope Surber becomes the spokes person for the liberal academy. Conservatives couldn't conjure a better spokes person for their concerns.

6) If this essay was submitted by an undergraduate in a composition or speech class it would receive a D at best.

52. ingratefulpockets - February 09, 2010 at 02:00 pm

More academics lean left largely because they have spent so much time in academia, which for too many generations has leaned left.

Also, you argue here that "[t]he liberal arts are distinctive because they are open to considering any of those values outside their narrow professional contexts," but in my almost 20 years of teaching English, I have seen more liberal colleagues demonstrate, like you do here, just the opposite: an appalling close-mindedness when it comes to ideas that are apparently on the "wrong" side of history. (I once sat in on a "diversity awareness" seminar, and heard a colleague argue that we need to "enlighten the suburban, white, Catholic" students we so often teach at my institution.)

What the academy should be doing is not demonizing opposing viewpoints (I'd think that the feminist, gay, and other minority academics would get this), but engaging them. And we should be teaching our students how to engage with all ideas as well--we should definitely NOT be teaching what the "right" or "wrong" side of history is.


53. coop_tamu_04 - February 09, 2010 at 02:02 pm

"History has a trajectory, driven in large part by the desires of underprivileged or oppressed groups to attain parity with the privileged or the oppressor."

I believe that the wording used in this article happens to be inherently subjective. Every class or group of people can see themselves as oppressed in one way or another.

The wealthy can claim they are oppressed by being required by force to pay entitlements and more than their share of taxes, and the proletariat can, of course, always claim themselves as the oppressed because they haven't had opportunities.

So which one is correct?

54. livefreeordie2 - February 09, 2010 at 02:39 pm

Greenshade #35 - An excellent article! Thanks very much for posting the link. It validates, for me at least, my opinion that it's long since time to not tolerate liberal nonsense. Conservatives that allow libs to frame the discussion are doing themselves and everyone else a disservice. We need to stop trying to accommodate them because they damned sure won't reciprocate.

martythehound #45. I said they are paid the least because that's what they are worth. That they are paid lower than other colleagues was part of the original piece. Are you seriously going to contend that the fact that you make more than someone at some conservative institution somewhere in some way invalidates that? What does that have to do with anything? "My liberal school pays Liberal Arts faculty more than your conservative school? So there!"

Sqrtnegone - I am very much aware of the broad diversity of thought among liberals. In point of fact, because of their propensity to see groups instead of individuals, it actually makes it fun to watch the occasional arguments between them. However, I would suggest you read the article that Greenshades referenced. Liberals generally make no such distinctions when demonizing conservatives and as I've written elsewhere, I'm one conservative that's had enough. As far as I'm concerned the differnces among liberals are the same as the differences between cow poop, rabbit poop, bird poop, and dog poop. They come in all shapes and sizes, but in the end, they are all just poop. That brush broad enough for ya?

55. boydmonster - February 09, 2010 at 03:44 pm

Thank you for your thoughtful argument here. I found one aspect of your reasoning to be fairly ironic. Your claim that Liberal Arts Professors tend to be more liberal because they have studied history which, as you say, "has a trajectory, driven in large part by the desires of underprivileged or oppressed groups to attain parity with the privileged or the oppressor." I think that you would have found few history professors to say that before the 20th Century. In other words, there are many perspectives on what drives history. You could say history is driven by the major human figures, i.e. Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Jesus of Nazareth, Siddhartha Gautama, etc. You could say history is largely driven by the rise and fall of empires (how would one studying the Ancient Near East find a struggle there for the underprivileged to attain parity with the privileged before, say, it's dominance by the Roman Empire?) It is a particularly 'liberal' view of history which views it through the lense of oppressed people groups. The concept of 'social history' seems to not be very popular before the 1960's. More than that, it seems that this metanarrative is a particularly Western one. Would an East African historian say the same thing drives history? How about a Chinese historian? It is part of our Western metanarrative (particularly in America) that humanity strives towards progress in the universal liberation of all peoples. It just seems to me to be a little naive to say "we're liberal because we've thought about history and the human condition." Is is possible to think about history and the human condition and not be a western liberal? More than that, it also feels as if this line of reasoning encourages a sort of narrow-mindedness that cannot conceive of an intelligent intellectual opponent. "We're liberal because we're educated and reasoned" will inevitably lead to an inability to engage with anyone who disagrees with you. It leaves you with no one to challenge you from without, and naturally produces a sort of intellectual stagnation where we only give credence to people whom we already agree with on a fundamental level. If we're going to have intellectual integrity, we must be open to the possibility that not all of the positions we hold are purely objective reasoned positions.

56. malclave - February 09, 2010 at 04:01 pm

A fourth reason is that liberals want to write self-congratulatory tripe like the above, and not be held accountable for any of their positions... and where better than leftist academia (other than, perhaps, a government union job)?

57. sqrtnegone - February 09, 2010 at 04:10 pm

livefreeordie2 - You have made it abundantly clear that you possess neither the ability nor the desire to engage in discourse. Instead you troll the articles on this site searching for the slightest provocation to launch personal attacks on anyone who does not adhere to your ideology, while at the same time claiming to be the victim of such attacks.

The conservative perspective has its merits, as does the liberal perspective. Neither viewpoint is better than the other, merely different.

58. mwmillertime - February 09, 2010 at 04:17 pm

So, you are pissed because you can't earn any money in the real world and your government-sponsored cushy jobs just don't pay you as much as the people in other, more meaningful and productive fields of study. Well, once you create a life-saving drug or perform a life-saving surgery or build a business that provides for tens, hundreds or thousands of people, you might make a little more money. That way you don't have to sponge off the taxpayer! But, on the other hand, if you did that, who in the world would you look down upon?

59. mwmillertime - February 09, 2010 at 04:29 pm

I like Hawg123's answer. Kudos.

60. livefreeordie2 - February 09, 2010 at 04:39 pm

sqrtnegone - The conservative perspective has its merits, as does the liberal perspective. Neither viewpoint is better than the other, merely different.

What utter nonsense. Take a stand, will you? I have more respect for the most hard-left liberal who at least believes in something, even if I think it's dead wrong. Do you have any core values? Government control of everything we do or individual liberty - one isn't better than the other, they're merely different? Helping someone in need or walk past him in the street - one isn't better that the other, they're merely different? Getting an education or getting pregnant as a teen - one isn't better than the other, they're merely different? Learning a skill and getting a job or living on the dole - one isn't better than the other, they're merely different? Preposterous.

If you don't know which is better, then start reading and learning until you can make up your mind. Talk to those you respect and maybe to those you don't respect. Do whatever it takes, but don't sit on the fence!

61. regularjoe - February 09, 2010 at 04:45 pm

>> 32. batchro - February 08, 2010 at 04:38 pm
>> Shouldn't we be analyzing who addresses "basic intellectual skills"...?

Good point.

Let's start with the question of whether "intellectual skills" can be taught. I would argue that they cannot! Analytical methodologies can be taught. Prior thought (the philosophers) can be taught. Historical facts can be taught, and they can also be cross-referenced, though always in finite and biased ways.

But ultimately, intellectual skills are inborn in us. Our inate curiosity drives us to learn logic, politics, and economics in order to simply navigate the playground. We learn human nature by observing humans. One may claim that we only learn the culture in which we live; but then again, that is the one in which we WILL live, so it is by far the most pertinent to us.

There are really two things we need to develop intellectually: books and curiosity (and with the advent of the internet, books are rapidly becoming optional!) Now, I sat through humanities classes, philosophy classes, literature classes, history classes -- and I learned things in all of them. But I learned vastly more AFTER college, when my curiosity was ignited by a fellow with a monstrous intellect, a vivid imagination, an encyclopedic knowledge of history, and enthusiasm about every subject that ever came up for discussion.

Oh, the fellow I credit with igniting that curiosity? A self-educated homebuilder. Oh, and a conservative, by the way. When HE spoke of Aristotle, or critiqued Kant, his words meant something -- because I knew it was PASSION, not pay, that motivated his study.

But I will comment on the compensatory aspect of Surber's argument: anyone who pursues a degree in liberal arts, and makes a career of teaching them, is at least engaging in pay for pursuing his own interests, and at worst professional mental masturbation. I, on the other hand, make a good living; but I do it at the expense of spending eight hours of every day doing something in which I have little interest. I made my choice willingly; and so did the liberal arts profs. That, I think, explains why Liberal Arts profs hate capitalism and the free market: because it is antithetical to the market to pay someone for activities that no one else values -- especially when those activities consist primarily of self-justification.

62. mmccllln - February 09, 2010 at 04:48 pm

First of all, I agree with 11211250. Good post.

Secondly, As a conservative,I am wondering after reading this article how I actually earned those history degrees. And why I'm allowed to teach the subject. There must have been a couple of business professors on the selection committee that day. What a stroke of luck for me. By the writer's logic, it's the only thing that could possibly account for it.

63. regularjoe - February 09, 2010 at 04:54 pm

>>50. sqrtnegone - February 09, 2010 at 09:25 am
>> I am curious, is the attempt to paint all left-leaning or
>> right-leaning people with a broad brush caused by a lack
>> of intelligence or a mindless adherence to a faulty ideology?

Yes.

64. regularjoe - February 09, 2010 at 05:11 pm

Oh, and I should have added: the same attributes apply to centrists painting those with strongly held ideals with broad brushes -- except in their case it tends to be not "faulty ideology" but the converse, lack of a cogent world-view.

65. sqrtnegone - February 09, 2010 at 05:49 pm

"Take a stand," is the battle cry of those who cannot think for themselves, and therefore must sell their soul to an artificial ideology. The moment that one boxes themselves into a given mindset they surrender their freedom to think.

In reality the extremes on either side are little more than outliers. A logical person will spend their time analyzing the useful information, and pay little heed to the outliers. Be it science or politics the extremes are mostly insignificant.

66. qzxcvbnm - February 09, 2010 at 06:07 pm


Having been in a long-term committed relationship with a tenured liberal academic who teaches at a prestigious college, I can attest to the truth of practically all of the conservative viewpoints expressed here (especially those of livefreeordie2).

Even attempting to discuss "principles" and "history" and "human nature" with my significant other often leads to an emotional outburst on her part, usually ending by her calling me a "racist" or worse. I've never actually gotten past the emotional reaction. Usually she just denies that such things exist and/or are knowable. A Ph.D. in the liberal arts leads to this?

She, and the vast majority of academics that I know, are far beyond liberal. I'd say they are also generally inept, effete, clueless, and ultimately dangerous.

There are so many things wrong with academia that it's hard to know where to begin. But I always start with the price tag. $50k/year (and increasing much faster than inflation) is just far too much money to pay for a long-outdated, useless, and crippling socialist/Marxist indoctrination. You can get exactly the same indoctrination at a state school for $15k (who says liberal arts colleges aren't uber-capitolist?). Any sucker who pays so much for so little will still have to learn the seven magic words: "Would You Like Some Fries With That?"

67. ertdfg - February 09, 2010 at 06:24 pm

"We're here and mostly liberal by practical deliberation, factual investigation, and rational and moral conviction"

Right, only my teachers for the weak easy subjects were Conservative. You know, the ones that didn't require rational though, or investigation, or practical deliberaiton.

Atomic/Nuclear Physics, Differential Equations, Automata Theory and Programming Language Theory, Artificial Intelligence design... these cakewalk classes don't require enough brainpower and thinking to turn someone liberal.

What requires this level of intelligence? Oh... the Humanities. Yeah, very persuasive.

68. ttyler5 - February 09, 2010 at 08:04 pm

" ... we have carefully studied the actual dynamics of history and culture; and we have trained ourselves to think in complex, nuanced, and productive ways about the human condition that so many of us are liberals."

Well, certainly, no one will confuse such liberal professors with our liberal politicians!

69. jeres - February 09, 2010 at 08:07 pm

Most of these comments have been very instructive, for better or worse (though I admit that in a few cases I had to refrain from hitting the 'Report Abuse' button). Still, I have drawn a couple of general conclusions from this discussion thread.

First, to read them, you'd think that almost no 'liberals' read these columns or at least take the time to respond to them. But, based on recent events in Washington, it seems that few ever do really stand up for what they believe, leaving the field open to those who merely want to posture, pontificate, 'conserve' the status quo, turn back the clock to some imagined 'better time' -- or whatever other aims fuel their obvious passion.

Second, it seems that those who do respond have little idea of what a reasoned objection or counter-argument might look like. If I was wrong about the connection between political inclinations and general economic status, might someone not present evidence that I am misled about this? If someone thinks that there is no connection between the study of historical and cultural phenomena and political convictions, might he or she not make a plausible case that the results of such study have no bearing on personal political persuasions, that they are irrelevant to one another or

70. piske109 - February 09, 2010 at 08:08 pm

Livefreeordie2, arrogance of some posters aside, I think other people are just frustrated because you come off as a troll. People want to see your perspective on the issue, so deconstruct the arguments and refute them, explain why they're wrong. I want to see that, and so do the others. But you just keep posting, "Oh man these liberals, they're all so this this and this, I won't come down to their level." If you really believed that they were wrong you would calmly refute what they say. Why aren't you doing that? I don't understand... And please please please don't reply to this calling me thin skinned or lacking principles, since I'm very definitely not either of those things.


>>>sqrtnegone - The conservative perspective has its merits, as does the liberal perspective. Neither viewpoint is better than the other, merely different.
Livefreeordie2: What utter nonsense. Take a stand, will you? I have more respect for the most hard-left liberal who at least believes in something, even if I think it's dead wrong.

I think sqrtnegone is being more pragmatic than anything else, not that that makes him right. If wer're talking about Conservative vs Liberal, that isn't doing much for the debate.

>>>Do you have any core values? Government control of everything we do or individual liberty - one isn't better than the other, they're merely different? Helping someone in need or walk past him in the street - one isn't better that the other, they're merely different? Getting an education or getting pregnant as a teen - one isn't better than the other, they're merely different? Learning a skill and getting a job or living on the dole - one isn't better than the other, they're merely different? Preposterous.

Those analogies aren't really applicable to this discussion, except for the first one. But what is individual liberty, or gov't control of everything. You proposed 2 strawmen and the other poster was seeking pragmaticism. I'll ask you, though, which is better: military interventionism and a very nationalistic public/state, or a non-interventionist military who only uses it power when absolutely necessary; strict trade laws between countries, or trade laws which are less so; federal programs, state programs, or district programs (infrastructure, health, etc., take your pick)? These aren't clear black and white questions that can just be answered with a table chart. You know, something like...

Abortion Immigrants
Conservative DISLIKE! NEVER!
Liberal LOVE! LET EVERYONE IN WITHOUT ID

I mean, this is just an absurd way to think. Those aren't principles, at all. You can't just watch MSNBC or watch Fox News, reaffirming the things you think you know, pumping your fist in the air thinking, "YEAH SCREW THIS RIGHT-WINGERS/LEFT-WINGERS/SOME GROUP," it doesn't do anything.

>>>If you don't know which is better, then start reading and learning until you can make up your mind. Talk to those you respect and maybe to those you don't respect. Do whatever it takes, but don't sit on the fence!

But some things we'll never find answers to, it's impossible for the human mind to have answers to everything. They might think they have the answer, but do they really? Hell, I'm an atheist and I'm willing to admit that.


All that aside, I'm kind of disappointed--just as others are--in the low quality of discourse in some of these posts. It's a microcosm of what I see on the news. Look no further than MSNBC and Fox News to see what people are mistaking for information. I'm also disappointed that after however many decades, people are still shocked that SOME people in Academia are 1)Neo-Marxist and 2) Sorta kinda smug. Though, for every Noam Chomsky and maybe 1 professor I've had in my academic career thus far, the rest are just normal people that want to teach and provide a service for their students. A lot of people are a lot more normal and kind than we give the Human Race credit for, guys.

71. jsch0602 - February 09, 2010 at 08:31 pm

Doctors, engineers, lawyers and scientists have an advantage in that they can earn good money outside the university. You want a medical school, you have to pay doctors to teach. What's an English professor going to do? Work at the sales desk of Barnes & Noble?

72. piske109 - February 09, 2010 at 08:39 pm

Also, in response to the OP: Newt Gingrich has a Ph.D in History........


>>>He received a B.A. degree from Emory University in Atlanta in 1965. He received an M.A. in 1968, and then a Ph.D. in Modern European History from Tulane University in New Orleans in 1971.[4] His dissertation topic was Belgian Education policy in Africa. While at Tulane, Gingrich, who at the time belonged to no religious group, began attending the St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church to pursue an interest in the effect of religion on political theory; he was soon baptized by the Rev. Mr G. Avery Lee.[5]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newt_Gingrich#Early_life


And he has degrees from Tulane and Emory for chrissake, come on guys :-\

73. jeres - February 09, 2010 at 08:40 pm

Sorry, part of my posting got cut off (some will certainly think this is all for the good, I realize).

To pick it back up:

or, better, that such study supports exactly the opposite conclusion? And if someone believes that other fields utilize and cultivate the same or equivalent sorts of reflection, thought, and critical skills as do the humanities or liberal arts, might they not show how this occurs in their areas? I've given some arguments, defective as someone might think they are; where are theirs?

I might well be wrong on any or all of these points; after all, they are not, logically speaking, 'necessary truths,' so they remain totally open to reasoned discussion. But dogmatic assertion, personal invective, ad hominem argument, and the general venting of spleen are not arguments or even reasoned responses.

In fact, I think a fair case can be made for a certain sort of conservatism, but I don't see any inkling of it in most of these responses. One might begin by suggesting exactly what it is that conservatives think ought to be 'conserved,' weighing this against the 'inconveniences' (as Locke might put it) of continuing the present situation. That would represent a real contribution to the discussion.

BTW I also learned along the way that Anne Frank was a major conservative author in the period after the Second World War. I think she'd be quite surprised to hear this.

74. piske109 - February 09, 2010 at 08:45 pm

jsch0602 - February 09, 2010 at 08:31 pm
Report Abuse
Doctors, engineers, lawyers and scientists have an advantage in that they can earn good money outside the university. You want a medical school, you have to pay doctors to teach. What's an English professor going to do? Work at the sales desk of Barnes & Noble?



I know you're talking about people that have a PhD in English, and I get your point kinda, but I have a relative with a BA English and he works for Lockheed Martin. I just kind of laugh when people assume things about majors they have little knowledge about..

"I mean what are you gonna do with a Ph.D in Physics, drop apples from a building???"

"What the heck can does a Computer Science major do, upgrade RAM?!?! Hehehe"

"Creative Writing? Who the hell needs writers?!"

Every major (well, maybe not all of them) has various applications, so let's not just make annoying presumptions based solely on ignorance.

75. piske109 - February 09, 2010 at 08:51 pm

Jeres, part of the problem is that no one defines any particular stance before they start arguing. Conservatives in the first quarter of the 20th century were FOR bigger government, and liberals were none other than what we call Classical Liberals today. There's a more precise vocabulary that's available, but a lot of people don't seem to use it (Old Right vs New Right, Old Left vs New Left, Libertarian Socialist vs Right Libertarian, Neoliberalism, Social Authoritarianism etc etc etc etc).

76. livefreeordie2 - February 09, 2010 at 09:49 pm

Piske109 - ". . .I think other people are just frustrated because you come off as a troll.

Oh really? What would be more accurate is that liberals (and apparently, fence sitters) do not like it when conservatives in higher ed don't cower. . .when they don't have the floor all to themselves to pat each other on the back and marvel at how caring and intelligent they are. . . I've been around "on-line" conversations since they took place on BBS. Face it, Piske, a troll is anyone who disagrees with the groupthink point of view and isn't afraid to express it.

My perspective on the issue? Go back to post #4. Or post #9. Or post #19. How hard is it for you to discern my perspective on the issue - this blog posting by Surber? As dozens of posters have commented, it's utter nonsense. Surber makes a comment like, "Conservatives, who tend to evoke the need to preserve traditional connections with the past, have nonetheless contributed least to any detailed or thoughtful study of history" and you think I'm going to dignify it with a thoughtful refutation? His entire piece is self-refuting nonsense which deserves what I and many others have given it - mocking scorn.

As for the rest of it, I think missed the point, however I'll leave you with this thought: The low quality of discourse in the comments on this and other posts made to the Chronicle blogs can be attributed directly to the low quality of blog entry by the original authors.

77. ernest_brown - February 09, 2010 at 10:12 pm

"Jeres, part of the problem is that no one defines any particular stance before they start arguing."

Unfortunately, the chief offender in failing to define his terms is Prof. Surber. He is the one who has fallaciously collapsed the European and American right in his piece, which is one of the things the non-leftists here are complaining about.

78. qzxcvbnm - February 09, 2010 at 10:13 pm

All readers here are lucky to have livefreeordie2 around. I think he's right: most academic liberals just don't get much exposure to actual conservatives. Liberals, you'd do well to re-read his comments and think seriously about them.

I wholeheartedly agree with his comments.

79. ernest_brown - February 09, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Professor Surber,

Your thesis is undercut by the fact that you yourself exhibit no nuance whatsoever in your analysis of both the particular historical situation of the current domination of the humanities by the left, or the broader topic of conservative intellectual thought in general. The explanation you have given is a cod-Marxist one that ignores the evolution of the academy and the intellectual, cultural and political currents (including Gramsci's "long march through the institutions) that have led to this hegemony. If it were true, we would expect the 19th century Oxbridge fellows to have been Bakuninites, since they were not only poor but required to be unmarried in order to hold their positions.

80. ernest_brown - February 09, 2010 at 10:33 pm

"...most academic liberals just don't get much exposure to actual conservatives..."

The dreadfully ironic thing is that Prof. Surber completely fails to show engagement with the dialectical aspects of leftist versus conservative thought both in his original pieces and in the responses above. To put it politely in philosophical terms, he is his own "undercutting defeater."

81. ernest_brown - February 09, 2010 at 10:34 pm

With apologies for the error, "in his original piece."

82. sqrtnegone - February 10, 2010 at 12:37 am

"Oh really? What would be more accurate is that liberals (and apparently, fence sitters) do not like it when conservatives in higher ed don't cower. . .when they don't have the floor all to themselves to pat each other on the back and marvel at how caring and intelligent they are. . . I've been around "on-line" conversations since they took place on BBS. Face it, Piske, a troll is anyone who disagrees with the groupthink point of view and isn't afraid to express it."

A true legend in your own mind. You are the perfect example of the type of extremist i find so amusing. It is sad that you misinterpret your inability to do little more than insult others as a sign of your moral and intellectual superiority. The truth is that you are an insecure troll who finds solace in harassing those who try to take part in rational discourse. You have even gone so far as to create a second username for yourself so that it appeared that you have supporters. Pity.

83. cb_10 - February 10, 2010 at 12:59 pm

jeres wrote:

"leaving the field open to those who merely want to posture, pontificate, 'conserve' the status quo, turn back the clock to some imagined 'better time' -- or whatever other aims fuel their obvious passion."

Pontification and posturing is exactly what many of us here are accusing jeres of (and, based on the above, possibly a serious misunderstanding of conservative aims - which have more to do with conserving only what is valued and valuable, based on the precedents by which society has evolved such institutions than the mythical status quo - think baby, bathwater, if that helps).

jeres wrote:

"Second, it seems that those who do respond have little idea of what a reasoned objection or counter-argument might look like. If I was wrong about the connection between political inclinations and general economic status, might someone not present evidence that I am misled about this? If someone thinks that there is no connection between the study of historical and cultural phenomena and political convictions, might he or she not make a plausible case that the results of such study have no bearing on personal political persuasions, that they are irrelevant to one another..."

First off, most college professors fall into the middle to upper-middle class range, even liberal-arts professors. It's rather cheeky to compare oneself with the very highest wage earners and celebrate one's own dedication and rejection of the profit motive (which is really just a clever way of suggesting that many of these same professors could be rich, if that's all they cared about - kind of a double pat on the back), when you still fall into a considerably higher bracket than the majority of your fellow citizens. Besides that, were we to accept this line of reasoning, correlations between economic status and political persuasion can be very tricky, given the sometimes large differences between income and region, due to cost of living, local markets, etc. With all due respect, I suspect a business major could suss some of this out.

Closer to the point though is that if college educators make above average salaries, what is that to say about those who work lower paying jobs and their view of the profit motive or the correlation between their pay and their politics (which, if I'm remembering correctly, differ a bit from the average university professor, particularly on social issues)?

There are far more reasons why people wind up in the academy or in a particular field of study than economics, among them the fact that some fields are highly concentrated in the academy, particularly liberal arts fields, as far as professional study and writing goes.

And this is one place where the second point jeres makes goes astray. The assumption that the study of historical and cultural phenomena lead to a particular political viewpoint is simply a generalization. First of all, most liberal-arts professors have a very narrow scope of studies once past their undergraduate degrees, (multiple degrees notwithstanding). Now, certainly there are professors of, say, philosophy, who are fairly well read in history or art. However, there are also businessmen, computer programmers, and people in other fields who share similar, non-professional passions about those areas.

In other words, this historical/cultural body of study that jeres claims correlates to a particular political philosophy is, once beyond the broad liberal arts studies of one's undergraduate experience, not necessarily a large part of the expertise of a professional academic. Are there overlapping areas among disciplines? Sure, but why should anyone assume, much less suggest as jeres does, that the average art history professor can effectively discuss pragmatism as applied to epsitomology or the military strategies used in the Battle of Borodino?

So, this historical/cultural perspective is more often a general one, one that many people who've undergone a college education (and some who've not I'd wager) are exposed to and cognizant of.

Add to that the appalling results of general knowledge studies conducted on college graduates and one could be forgiven for being highly skeptical of just how rigorous such a persepctive is outside of one's field.

84. johntoradze - February 10, 2010 at 01:17 pm

"So you think you have more "advanced study" than a physician? From high school to practice level, an oral surgeon, for example, requires 14 or more years of education (depending on the program). How many years do you have?"

Dude. You flunked economics 101 right there!

There are so many rip-snorting nitwitteries in this thread it's breathtaking. This one was clearly written by an American doctor. Doctors, because of the AMA's maintenance of a shortage and annihilation of all attempts to socialize medical care, have increased physician compensation hugely since 1950.

There is no connection between time in school or education and work experience and compensation. Compensation is regulated by supply and demand. It is easy to think of examples. And physicians do not have "14 years education". They have 8 years, plus residency with specialist training. In the latter they are paid, and thus it is work experience exactly analogous to that of engineers and lawyers.

Examples:
PhD in sciences. Education: 7 to 14 years. Postdoc work experience 2 to 15 years. A student who graduates with a 4 year degree and gets a PhD quickly will have it in 3 years for a total of 7. A student who is unlucky or has a bad PI will take 10. I've known MS students who took ten years that were excellent, and did superior work to PhD students - they just got unlucky in an uncaring system. A postdoc can get grant money in a couple of years or they can labor for a decade or two.
These people, if they get professorships will teach medical students and determine new treatments. Their compensation? About what a resident makes.

Engineers? Similar, but somewhat shorter time frames. That does not mean that engineers learn less, far from it. There are very few physicians that can keep up with a bachelor's student in engineering when it comes to figuring things out or analysis.
Their compensation? About 1/3 to 1/2 what a physician makes.

Software programmers?
I once worked in this field and ran a division. People without high school diplomas, if they are good, can make as much as a physician's average. Bill Gates never finished college.

Sales people?
James Cannavino who headed a division of IBM joined with a high school diploma and went into sales.

Physician compensation in nations outside the USA (Canada, Europe) in comparable economies are roughly 50% that of the USA. Education is virtually identical.

USA Physicians live in a cloister and have no idea what the real economic reasons are for their outrageous over-compensation.

85. stevenkass - February 10, 2010 at 02:15 pm

livefreeordie2 wrote "His entire piece is self-refuting nonsense which deserves what I and many others have given it - mocking scorn."

That mocking scorn is a valid response to an essay doesn't cut it for me, and I suspect it doesn't cut it for most faculty at liberal arts colleges. I'd expect from students a response that explains (based on some consistent and clear definitions) why the piece is "self-refuting," and why it's "nonsense." By "nonsense," do you mean illogical, and can you give examples of flawed logic? And so on. For livefreeordie2, such a response may be a waste of time, and I respect that.

The institutions of liberal arts, I believe, include among their fundamental principles notions of what constitutes valid discourse. Some of those notions are logical argument, experimental and theoretical science, and scrutiny of history. Mocking scorn is not one of them (though it would be interesting to understand what principles are consistent with the idea that it is - seriously!).

It's hard to play a game when the players disagree on the rules. (I don't think my rules of discourse are fundamentally right, and livefreeordie2's wrong, but they derive from different philosophies. I don't have much interest or experience with his/her rules, nor does playing with his/her rules fit with my philosophy.)

Given the philosophy that guides us, we "liberal faculty" reward students who develop skill applying what we take as valid discourse to their disciplines. In what I teach, that includes solving mathematical and computational problems correctly, writing computer programs that withstand rigorous and well-designed testing, proving theorems, presenting counterexamples, and so on.

Similarly, we employ those who share our philosophy and apply its principles effectively.

To the extent that the characteristics of those we hire (the skill at contributing to our institution's mission) overlaps with the connotation of "liberal," yes, naturally we're liberal. We're liberal just as naturally as Catholic priests are Catholic, or as editors at the New Yorker ascribe to a particular view of what constitutes "correct" language.

Some people don't like the principles founding our institution, or that institutions might be successful in promoting them. They respond in various ways. Rarely do they try to respond using our manner of valid discourse. That's no surprise, because our principles are more or less consistent with that kind of discourse. Those who don't like our "liberalism" use their own forms of discourse to challenge us, and it offends some of us.

86. cb_10 - February 10, 2010 at 02:34 pm

stevenkass

Regardless of what you think of liverfreeordie2's rhetorical and logical approach I think it does a tremendous disservice to conflate political liberalism with "liberal arts," or to imply that the philosophical aims of liberal arts studies and the general exchange of ideas that is supposed to go on in such programs are in some way contrary to philosophical conservatism. (Indeed, one of the key conservative criticisms of the proliferation of poltically liberal hegemony on college campuses is precisely that the phenomenon leads to more instances of groupthink and a substantially narrower base of ideas with which to evaluate the world. Professor Surber's article has done little to weaken that critique.)

It certainly may not have been stevenkass's intent to give this impression, but I think it is a fair reading of the comment, especially in light of phrases like "liberal faculty."

87. ernest_brown - February 10, 2010 at 02:49 pm


"That mocking scorn is a valid response to an essay doesn't cut it for me, and I suspect it doesn't cut it for most faculty at liberal arts colleges. I'd expect from students a response that explains (based on some consistent and clear definitions) why the piece is "self-refuting," and why it's "nonsense." By "nonsense," do you mean illogical, and can you give examples of flawed logic?"

One has been given, repeatedly, by many commentators. Professor Surber has claimed that liberal arts education leads to political liberalism because of a nuanced understanding of history and argument, yet his article is totally un-nuanced and extremely poorly argued both on the narrow point of his putative reason for leftism's hegemony in the humanistic branches of the academy and the larger areas of history and conservative intellectual thought. The pathos of his comment 69, "First, to read them, you'd think that almost no 'liberals' read these columns or at least take the time to respond to them" illustrates the self-undercutting of his own thesis.

88. stinkcat - February 10, 2010 at 03:00 pm

"Professor Surber has claimed that liberal arts education leads to political liberalism because of a nuanced understanding of history and argument"

I think part of the problem is one of measurement. When liberal and conservative economists argue whether the minimum wage ought to be increased, at least we have a relatively agreed upon methodology to determine who is right, and we have measures that we usually can agree on. However, when Surber claims that liberals have more nuanced thinking skills, how to we measure and evaluate this claim? He doesn't suggest any measure, except for the empirical regularity that most professors in the academy are liberal in outlook.

89. ernest_brown - February 10, 2010 at 03:21 pm

"He doesn't suggest any measure, except for the empirical regularity that most professors in the academy are liberal in outlook."

"Ledzep" has thoughtfully critiqued that attitude in comment 36.

The irony (one of a constantly increasing series, it seems) in livefreeordie2's "trolling" goes to the fact that the rational substance of his complaint is that political liberals care more about affect and motive than genuine rational conceptional analysis, despite their claims to the contrary. Sure enough, what "liberal" response that exists on this thread is more concerned with his attitude than the comments that ledzep and cb_10 have put forth, thus ironically vindicating him.

QED

90. ernest_brown - February 10, 2010 at 03:22 pm

"conceptional=conceptual"

91. stevenkass - February 10, 2010 at 04:01 pm

@cb_10: It wasn't my intent to "conflate political liberalism with 'liberal arts' or to imply that the philosophical aims of liberal arts studies and the general exchange of ideas that is supposed to go on in such programs are in some way contrary to philosophical conservatism."

No matter whether this is a "fair reading" of my comment (or even your reading), your response indicates that I failed to guard against that way of reading it.

For what it's worth, I tried to avoid the first aspect of such a reading with my liberal (pun intended) use of quotes around "liberal," "liberalism," and "liberal faculty" and my specific reference to the "connotation of 'liberal'." The second aspect, specifically that an alternative philosophy to one I mentioned in the context of "'liberalism'" might be characterized as "conservatism," never occurred to me. It should have. In the context of this discussion, the word "conservatism" is reasonably inferred even when unwritten. I wouldn't have used that word, or any word for that matter, and didn't.

It's exceedingly difficult to avoid misunderstandings or misreadings in this discussion! I feel lucky that I can retreat to the somewhat more well-founded language of mathematics.

@ernest_brown: I didn't mean to suggest that no responses had addressed the essay's logic or coherence, nor that none existed. My comment was about a particular response I found lacking in terms of what "valid discourse" means to me and my understanding of the institution of liberal arts education.



92. mmccllln - February 10, 2010 at 04:08 pm

Just to back up what piske109 wrote about Dr. Gingrich...

Prior to his first run at Congress (which he lost by the way), Dr. Gingrich taught history at what was then known as West Georgia College (now University of West Georgia). I was not a student there, but lived nearby and often heard him lecture on a variety of historical topics. His lectures and discussions were non-political and I found him to be an engaging instructor who provided insight into a myriad of topics. This had nothing to do with whether he was a liberal or conservative. It had everything to do with being an excellent teacher.

93. isambard - February 10, 2010 at 04:10 pm


Can I say as delicately as possible that it's only rather recently that academics have been so overwhelmingly 'liberal' - in the American sense, which I take to mean 'supporters of the Democratic Party'? My own sense of why this is is that many - not all - Americans who think they are 'conservatives' - a term which seems to embrace everything from free-market libertarianism to a hankering after theocracy - are intensely nationalistic, believe that the US embodies every social, political, and economic virtue and is threatened by whatever enemy of the day it might be externally, ranging from communists via illegal immigrants to Al Qaeda and internally by 'liberals'- or social democrats - who are variously intent on doing the communists' work for them or leaving the country wide open to other sorts of subversion. It was identified long ago as the Paranoid Style in American Politics, and it is to my eye not particularly conservatve, because it leads to all sorts of destructive lashing out rather than conservation. 'Liberals' have pretty vague ideas about just what might improve the US, but at least understand that the US has an archaic political system, a scandalously bad record in health care, a decaying infrastructure, and an economic system that has seen the real wages of the median worker stagnate since the 1970s. The deep oddity of US politics is how little of it really is concerned with making the worst off a bit better off and how much is concerned with striking cultural poses.

94. ernest_brown - February 10, 2010 at 04:33 pm

"The deep oddity of US politics is how little of it really is concerned with making the worst off a bit better off and how much is concerned with striking cultural poses."


I am afraid that you have confused a healthy distrust of centralized statism with "paranoia."

95. dank48 - February 10, 2010 at 05:16 pm

Noel Annan once wrote that many liberals believe that the difference between liberals and conservatives is a matter of compassion and that many conservatives believe that the difference is a matter of what one thinks it's possible to do. He also wrote that many liberals fail to realize how bitterly their assumption of moral superiority is resented by conservatives, who believe they are just as sensitive to injustice as are liberals, but somewhat more realistic about what one can accomplish.

I don't know. But it strikes me that one way to compare two groups is by looking at their faults rather than their virtues. It might be said that the besetting sin of conservatives is their self-satisfaction, and the besetting sin of liberals is their self-righteousness. Neither is a particularly attractive characteristic, really. And the distinction between the two can be a little difficult to define. Or see at all.

96. entertained - February 10, 2010 at 05:24 pm

I am not going to mention my stance, my education level, or intellegence here, but I am entirely entertained by livefreeordie2.

I actually stopped reading what everyone else was writing and simply used find to read livefreeordie2 posts. Just amazing.

Fence sitters...priceless.

97. cb_10 - February 10, 2010 at 05:54 pm

stevenkass

I appreciate your clarifications. I suspected as much, but since the error I mention is not uncommon, I thought it a good opportunity to address the issue. Hope I didn't unintentionally offend you in the process.

98. stevenkass - February 10, 2010 at 09:31 pm

@cb_10: "Hope I didn't unintentionally offend you in the process." Not at all, and thanks for your comments.

99. voicoff_commonsenz - February 11, 2010 at 02:32 am

The real reason that academics tend to be liberal (probably increasingly so, over the last couple of decades) is that academic life draws people who are attracted by the idea of rational inquiry. On the political right, increasingly, intellectuals and the whole concept of rational inquiry are spurned as the province of elites--you go with your gut, instead. George W. Bush, in particular, prided himself on being a "gut-level" thinker and not a "brain" thinker. So there's not much overlap between people attracted to the present-day political right, and those attracted to academic life.

I don't buy the idea that lower salaries in the humanities have much to do with it. Outside of a few people doing very applied work that allows for a lot of consulting, most science faculty in academia don't have significantly higher income than humanities faculty.

100. mcparlan - February 11, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Dr. Surber's piece is really fascinating. Now that he mentions it, of course it seems perfectly obvious: unfair wage disparity causes humanities professors to support abortion, gay marriage, exploitation of human embryos for research, criminalization of offensive speech, de-criminalization of marijuana, explicit sex instruction for grade-schoolers, suppression of guns and religion, and racial/gender discrimination against white males. Yes, that all makes perfect sense now. Thank heavens we have intelligent philosophers to explain these things to us.

101. stinkcat - February 11, 2010 at 12:42 pm

voicoff_commonsenz,

I think you have to dinstinguish between conservatives and liberals in academia, where both types are attracted by the idea of rational inquiry and are constrained by it, and by liberals and conservatives in the media who are less constrained by rational inquiry. For example, Jesse Jackson is a liberal who is more interested in pushing an agenda than in seeking the truth.

102. ernest_brown - February 11, 2010 at 01:13 pm

"I think you have to dinstinguish between conservatives and liberals in academia, where both types are attracted by the idea of rational inquiry and are constrained by it, and by liberals and conservatives in the media who are less constrained by rational inquiry."

A noble, but doomed, effort on your part. The liberal/left misology embraced by Professor Surber, voicoff_commonsenz et. al. admits of no such nuanced distinctions. Thus, any admission of the errors of America's past is taken to be complete and entire validation of the stupidly Manichean anti-historical postions of Chomsky or Zinn.

103. ernest_brown - February 11, 2010 at 01:15 pm

"I am not going to mention my stance, my education level, or intellegence here, but I am entirely entertained by livefreeordie2."

You would do better to weep.

He is a true child of the attitudes manifested by Prof. Surber in the above article.

104. mcparlan - February 11, 2010 at 01:33 pm

"I don't buy the idea that lower salaries in the humanities have much to do with it. Outside of a few people doing very applied work that allows for a lot of consulting, most science faculty in academia don't have significantly higher income than humanities faculty." - voicoff_commonsenz post #99

I agree with you about academic salaries. However, there is another peculiar attribute of humanities professors that could have something to do with being liberal. The disciplines of business, economics, physical and biological sciences, medicine, law, etc., force their practitioners to deal with facts. In the humanities, students are encouraged to make things up.

105. livefreeordie2 - February 11, 2010 at 02:53 pm

ernest_brown - (Livefreeordie2) is a true child of the attitudes manifested by Prof. Surber in the above article.

Fascinating. Do you mean that my refusal to play nice when conservatives are being smeared is a result of the arrogance and condescension shown by Surber and his ilk? That after listening to liberals for decades, that some of us no longer have the patience amply displayed by Bauerlein in his critique under the Brainstorm section? (A good read - http://chronicle.com/blogPost/A-Liberal-Prof-Congratulates/21183/) If so, then you would be correct. Surber's original piece above is insulting. His responses to Bauerlein's critique is both insulting and childish.

I love to debate issues in a thoughtful and deliberative manner. But the "issue" Surber writes about is, essentially, that the liberal arts professoriate is "here and mostly liberal by practical deliberation, factual investigation, and rational and moral conviction." The obvious corrollary is that conservatives do not engage in those actions or possess those qualities. If I say that I believe you hold your views because your mother is an ugly hag and a prostitute, would it be legitimate for me to expect a polite discussion rather than a punch in the nose? And if you were going to provide a "thoughtful response," what would it be? That's not why I hold my views? My mother is not ugly? Once the issue hinges on an ad hominem attack, no matter how subtle, and especially when it occurs with predictable frequency, it simply makes no sense to respond in a kindly manner. It's time to just say "No! That's nonsense!"

Now. . . if that's not what you meant, please explain.

106. ernest_brown - February 11, 2010 at 04:13 pm

"His responses to Bauerlein's critique is both insulting and childish."

Thank you for pointing that out. As for the rest, I think my comment #89 makes things clear. It is truly sad that the modern left/liberal humanities professoriate has, in fact, created students who have no real knowledge of the clash of competing ideas. They are concerned only with spouting glittering generalites or questioning the motives of those who disagree with them instead of engaging in genuine dialectic, as Prof. Surber's own plaintive comment #69 makes clear.

107. ernest_brown - February 11, 2010 at 04:33 pm

"You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly.-C.S. Lewis, "Bulverism" from GOD IN THE DOCK.

108. voicoff_commonsenz - February 11, 2010 at 09:25 pm

"The disciplines of business, economics, physical and biological sciences, medicine, law, etc., force their practitioners to deal with facts." (mcparlan post #104)

For business, physical and biological sciences, medicine, and law, generally yes. For economics, I don't think so! The "free market" is a gospel there, and economists are the ones who told us that free market would ensure everything would turn out just swell, once we let those bankers and Wall Streeters free of all that burdensome regulation, 'cause in a free market there are no bubbles.

109. entertained - February 11, 2010 at 10:23 pm

"You would do better to weep.
He is a true child of the attitudes manifested by Prof. Surber in the above article."

I have no reason to weep...nor laugh... I am simply entertained.

"To set up what you like against what you dislike, this is the disease of the mind"and "Abide not with dualism; carefully avoid pursuing it; as soon as you have right and wrong, confusion ensues and Mind is lost"

Seng-can

110. stinkcat - February 11, 2010 at 10:31 pm

"The "free market" is a gospel there, and economists are the ones who told us that free market would ensure everything would turn out just swell, once we let those bankers and Wall Streeters free of all that burdensome regulation, 'cause in a free market there are no bubbles."

You clearly know nothing about the economics profession, particularly the academic side of things. I don't ever recall any economists deny the existence of bubbles, nor are we all so homogeneous that we all believe that the unfettered free market is the only solution for all of our problems.

111. ernest_brown - February 11, 2010 at 11:53 pm

"I don't ever recall any economists deny the existence of bubbles, nor are we all so homogeneous that we all believe that the unfettered free market is the only solution for all of our problems."

Absolutely, to say the free markets are preferable to top-down autocratic statist bureaucratic control of the economy is -NOT- to say that economic freedom solves EVERY HUMAN PROBLEM, or even pretends too. Not even an arch-capitalist such as Ayn Rand believed that.

112. ernest_brown - February 12, 2010 at 12:06 am

"Abide not with dualism; carefully avoid pursuing it; as soon as you have right and wrong, confusion ensues and Mind is lost"

Ah, then cruelty is equal to non-cruelty and I can pour boiling water on the head of the Master with impunity.

Thanks for the enlightenment...

113. ernest_brown - February 12, 2010 at 12:09 am

"Abide not with dualism; carefully avoid pursuing it"

Then I would fall into the dualism of focusing on dualism and then worrying about not pursuing it.

Geez, I really should run the Buddha over if I meet him on the road.

114. mcparlan - February 12, 2010 at 11:20 am

Professor Surber, you tipped your hand when you brought up the German system of setting professor's salaries according to civil service ranking. Based on your analysis, it doesn't matter how much the German teachers make, or whether their actual economic condition is good or poor, or whether faculty members "want more." The only thing that matters in your analysis is that they all get paid the same. You claim that your economic condition causes you to be liberal, but in fact, what you find lacking in your career, and in the world at large, is economic equality enforced by government regulation.

The fallacies and absurdities in the rest of your piece are even clearer. You claim (without citing any empirical evidence) that humanities professors are the lowest paid sector in academe, but you don't bother to ask why that might be the case, if true. Your understanding of culture and social justice, far from being nuanced, is actually quite simplistic: you believe that justice means equality. If anyone makes more than you it's unfair - an "economic condition" -- regardless of the reason why. As for most Marxisits, egalitarianism has become a fetish for you.

You complain that liberal arts professors don't have opporunities to supplement their income, but you absurdly identify only a few ways of doing so -- serving of boards, filing patents and licenses, receiving research grants -- when everyone knows there are thousands of other types of gainful employment. Do you mean to suggest that liberal arts professors are naifs completely ignorant of the job market, or that they are too lazy or too proud to engage in other types of work, unless it be serving on a board of directors? Those unflattering conclusions are clearly implied by your ill-considered claims.

If an individual were actually motivated by concern over their own economic situation, would it be rational for him or her to use his free time lecturing other people about the need for "social change" instead of trying to make more money? Of course not.

People who pursue doctoral degrees in the humanities know very well what they are getting into. It is not the case that they suddenly discover that their earning capcity is limited the day they begin their first teaching job. And no one stands over them with a gun, forcing them to remain there or preventing them from supplementing their income. It is utter nonsense to claim that the "economic condition" of liberal arts professors causes them to support "social change" that promises to remediate the very economic conditions they voluntarily chose in the first place.

Aspiring preachers who want to spread the Gospel go to divinity school, where the faculty and curriculum provide indoctrination and encouragement, and confer credentials to advance the religious mission. The left-wing politicization of the liberal arts has turned those departments into something like divinity schools, where students go for indoctrination in the gospel of egalitarianism and "social justice." Of course, this is one reason why students are staying away in droves and why liberal arts professors are finding fewer opportunities to pick up extra courses to teach in the summer.

So, you have actually got your cause and effect backward, Dr Surber. Your economic condition didn't cause you to become a liberal. Rather, your politics have helped bring about your economic condition. In all those long years of studying the nuances of culture and values and the grand trajectories of history, and exercising your brilliant logic and rationality on the great problems of philosophy, perhaps you would have done well to take a few psychlogy courses. You might have learned something about the capacity of the human mind to fool itself.

115. kantopet - February 15, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Hmm, late to this battle, but this caught my eye, paraphrased and edited of course, from item 31:

My observation is that [insert the other here] tend to believe in simplistic solutions, and [insert self identity here] don't. Human behavior cannot be reduced to predictable formulas. (Oops, seems I just did so.)

Gets back to my old foundational theory of philosophy: The best way to win an philosophical argument is to fight a straw man. Almost gor drummed out of a philosophy class back in grad school for making that my final paper topic.

But to be most honest, being a pretty hard-core environmentally sensitive, socially aware, politically way left leaning person myself, I found the smugness of the article to be a little disconcerting if not somewhat insulting. I do think there are reasons there are more liberals in education and I do think it ties back to belief and value systems, the decisions we make in life, but trying to convince me that liberals are smarter because they know more doesn't hold much water. Most intelligent and well-reasoned political discussion I ever had was with a self-proclaimed, arch-conservative army seargant in Texas. He was against everything I was for. I was for everything he was against. We got along great. Found lots of common ground. Worst one I have ever had was with someone who officially shared all the same views as myself and who was very loudly and aggressively scandalized that I would disagree with them on something. So much for anecdotal evidence.

Which is to say, as long as the conversation is about the failings of supposedly opposed camps and not the contributions individualized voices, no progress will really be made, though the mud, tar and feather industries will certainly be booming. As long as we keep applying the simplistic formula I started with, we learn nothing except how really fantastically awesome we are compared to that other guy over there.

116. kantopet - February 15, 2010 at 12:15 pm

So ... anyone want to help me write a research grant to study the interactions between liberalism and the academic setting with the intent to systematically assess:

1.) The current levels of liberalism in the academic setting, both amongst faculty and administration.

2.) The historical levels of liberalism in the academic setting, including trends and patterns in the balance of political self-identification and potentional future trends.

3.) The intelligence and knowledge base of academics with professed politicial orientations.

4.) Self-reported reasons for people with advanced degrees for going into education, as well as into private industry and public service.

There were other topics raised, but I think these would be the lost measureable. And I think the results would be interesting in their very ambiguity.

117. maaadddog - February 17, 2010 at 07:46 pm

Liberal arts professors are liberal because they do not have jobs in the real world. Many (most?) have never had to make a payroll, never had to pay exorbitant taxes and comply with onerous rules and regulations. They go from high school into college, the grad school, and then move right back to frolicking with juveniles just out of high school. They have the summers off, cannot be fired and get regular pay increases. Seated in their ivory towers the real world looks oppressive. They mistake "oppression" for business owners trying to provide a service or goods while earning a profit after being taxed and regulated nearly out of business. They mistake under privilege for hard-working men or women struggling to earn as much as the good professor.

So yes, some professors are liberal because of "naïveté." They entered college with no real world experience, then they soaked up all the liberal nonsense that their liberal professors taught them, and they never had any real-world experience to teach them that most liberal policies do not work in the real world. They mean well, but because they are ignorant of the real world, their good intentions actually cause harm.

I understand completely why liberal professors would not oppose increased taxes--they don't have to worry about them. College tuition roughly doubles every eight years. While the rest of us are trying to keep our heads above water, trying to better educate ourselves, and trying to provide a better product at a cheaper price, colleges coast along, always raising their prices, and always paying their professors more.

Instead of clamoring to change the world so that you have an even more cushy nine-months-out-of- the-year job, how about if you agitate for people such as youself to take less benefits? Then tuition rates could drop, and those of us peons who have to pay for a higher education will not be saddled with enormous loans for most of our adult life. People such as you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

As to your gratuitous crack about Sarah Palin supposedly not knowing about WWI, I am reminded of an anecdote about Henry Ford. He was called ignorant by some fool and he sued them for slander. The defense tried to prove that he really was ignorant by asking him all kinds of arcane questions about history. In a nutshell, his response was that if he wanted to he could summon the best experts in the world to answer his questions for him. Knowing tidbits of history is nice, but it does not substitute for actual experience running a successful business. Or, in Sarah Palin's case, successfully running an entire state. What the hell have you done besides make passes at coeds and have student assistants do most of your work for you?

118. ulysses - February 18, 2010 at 07:34 pm

The sad truth probably is that you are right. Not paid well, and needing to feel some sense of professioanl accomplishment, liberal arts Profs. need the elitist status the left offers. That part about "A second reason that liberal-arts professors tend to be politically liberal is that they have very likely studied large-scale historical processes and complex cultural dynamics." made me laughed till I cried. The rest of us are just really very stupid? hard study inevitably leads to one being politically liberal? I m sure liberal professors make up the complex cultural dynamics as they go, and history itself has little to do with liberal mental gymnastics. notice they are not cultural dynamics...they are "complex" which makes it sound very lofty to add that word in front. I'm positive most of these thinking complex souls couldn't pass an honors high school physics class. Even the ones with a Ph.D. in complex social structures , they of course are above all that kind of thinking and naturally tell us they are thinking on a higher plane...so high it is totally irrelevant to the world around them. I'm surprised they pay them at all for such rubbish

119. csabel - March 09, 2010 at 12:20 am


Instead of showing how thoughtful liberals are, Surber instead demonstrates liberal self-satisfaction to an extreme degree, contemning his fellow citizens, disdaining debate, spewing platitudes, and failing to examine even the most basic assumptions behind his own string of words -- for it would be too generous to call this an argument. If Suber had by chance ever taken it into his head to read Hegel, he might have discovered that there is meaning and significance everywhere, even in all those things that eventually disclose themselves as deficient. Even the negative has a positive moment, and without it, there would be no dialectic at all. So maybe the "Party of No!" could be forgiven, or at least put into context, in the name of sublimation. Read my full reply at http://distemperedrhetoric.wordpress.com.

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