Phi Beta Cons


There’s more to the world than Michael Berube, but his book has spawned so many fascinating discussions I can’t resist bringing attention to them. At Easily Distracted there’s a particularly engaging debate between Berubean Timothy Brook and a rather sprightly conservative Withywindle. I’ve no idea what that means, but he’s making excellent points. I’d strongly recommend reading the longer discussion – it’s not descended into repetition as of yet, but here are a few seminal points. Brook on the small-c conservatism of academia: 

Alan gets at a key thing I’ve been arguing for a while: the institutional conservatism of academia, which is not the same as political conservatism. Programs tend to replicate themselves, whether it’s Austrian-school economics or historicist literary criticism.

 This is certainly true. Yet, at present, such entrenched humanities departmental leanings are almost invariably in the direction of theory, and away, in any measure, from “Conservative” interests.  We have the reign of High Theory in English, the Reign of Social History in History, and so on. Is there a single humanities academic realm that might be called friendly to any “Conservative” academic sense? I ask in the broadest conception. Does this matter in most instances? No. It’s a valid point though.  Brook additionally acknowledges prevailing liberal academic presumptions of agreement: 

I recall sitting in a committee meeting in November 2001 where a colleague recounted her recent visit to the South, and her abject horror at the sight of many American flags on lawns. The interesting thing to me was that she took it for granted that everyone in the room shared her sense of horror–there wasn’t any possibility in her mind, as far as I could see, that someone might feel differently. That, I agree, is a real issue, and it goes beyond merely claiming a space for conservatives.

 I don’t know a single conservative who hasn’t experienced numerous instances of such behavior. I for once recall being urged by a Professor in 2004 (my favorite, actually) to return home to vote upon learning that I was from Pennsylvania. Never did it seem to enter her mind that I didn’t favor Kerry.  
Withywindle makes an excellent response to the “Conservative Affirmative Action” blather. I’ve not seen a single person genuinely advocating ideological hiring preference for conservatives – it’s simply used as a rhetorical device, and he makes the point concisely: 

The comparison of conservative complaints to affirmative action is just silly. No serious conservative has ever called for a jobs quota for conservatives. They *have* noted that the statistical arguments used by liberals to argue that racist hiring policies exist, and need to be remedied by affirmative action, would equally well prove that politically discriminatory hiring practices exist in academia, that could with equal justice claim the remedy of affirmative action. They have also noticed that the word “diversity” is now an obvious euphemism for skin color, genitalia, and preferred venue of singles bar; that it makes an ugly conflation between such inessentials and the character of one’s mind, and that, in the ideologically monolithic campus of today, it somehow fails to prize diversity of opinion. We are trying to point out the various internal contradictions, and euphemistic blind spots, in your policy and vocabulary; the point is to induce you to abandon your policy and vocabulary, not to seek to imitate it ourselves.

 He makes additional excellent points about prevailing attitudes towards the U.S. in academia. You could call them “Anti-American” or “objective” depending upon your view, but Withywindle has a fine comparative historical point: 

I do think patriotic sentiment has inspired much of the best of history—how can one separate the establishment of the modern historical discipline in the nineteenth century from the patriotic impulse? The exploration of the archives, and publication thereof, which still provides the primary-source basis for research? How could we have the history of Colombia, Malawi, Thailand without the patriotic impulse of its historians? American history without the initial impulse of American patriotism? These are not deformations, but essential inspirations. America indeed is blessed by a broad and welcoming patriotic spirit—but it is exceptional in its type of patriotism, not in its lack of patriotism. I want the American intelligentsia to embrace patriotism in their professional practice not only as normal, but as positively good; to reject it entirely, and to take that rejection as positive goal, I take to be a disfigurement of their spirit and professional practice that in itself justifies all critiques leveled at the profession.

 I could go on all day – it’s no wonder that the blog is called Easily Distracted. I’ll stop and instead urge you all to read the piece and discussion.


The Latest