Conservatives in philosophy face an uphill battle as soon as they decide to come out and defend their views. Everyone who has ever tried to publish an article or a book that is critical of progressive views on, for example, race and gender, knows how extremely difficult it is, especially if one is hoping for one of the regular journals or publishers in philosophy. (The reason certainly is not a lack of interest in the topics of race and gender on the part of journal editors and publishers.) Even a manuscript that is not critical of progressive views is often held to a standard of political correctness that only radical progressives are likely to meet. For example, describing a woman as “beautiful” is already considered sexist by some referees. There is every reason to think that being hired as an openly conservative philosopher is even more difficult.
Now it may be thought that one can still opt for the easier life of the closet conservative who is happy to shun sensitive topics, and to comply with strict standards of political correctness when choosing words or examples. However, there is another problem lurking for him or her, namely: it is becoming harder and harder to stay in the closet. The reason is not just the temptation to “like” or share something on social media that could reveal one’s true identity. After all, that temptation can be resisted; if necessary, by simply staying away from social media. The main reason is that more and more job advertisements specify competences that one cannot claim to have unless one reveals one’s political proclivities. Think, for example, of how you might prove that you are competent in teaching “feminist philosophy”, or the “philosophy of race and gender”. Most likely, you will have to prove that you have taught or published in these areas. Even if you did not devote an entire course to feminist philosophy, or to race and gender, you may still be expected to have incorporated these topics in your metaphysics, epistemology, ethics or philosophy of science classes. And this is where the problem for the closet conservative arises. It is almost impossible for anyone, conservative or not, to teach or publish in these areas without revealing one’s political identity. The reason is not just that one may find it difficult to remain neutral when discussing these topics. The reason is also that neutrality may itself be interpreted as a sign of bias (in the wrong direction). Even just a proposal for a course outline or a reading list is likely to be suggestive, and any remaining doubts are likely to be dispelled as soon as one appears before the job interview panel (for example, imagine a closet conservative answering the question, “so what do you think of Haslanger’s book Resisting Reality…?”). As a result, a closet conservative is likely to avoid teaching, and most certainly will avoid publishing, in these areas. Perhaps he or she will also avoid teaching and publishing in social and political philosophy, and in applied ethics. But then he or she is also unlikely to meet the explicit desiderata or requirements for quite a few jobs.
And the numbers are not small. There is considerable demand for philosophers who can teach in the areas of applied ethics and political philosophy. More significantly, there seems to be a growing demand for feminist philosophers, as well as philosophers of race and gender. For example, of the first 50 advertisements listed on Philpapers (on 22 November 2016) for tenure-track or permanent positions 14 (that is, 28%) mention feminist philosophy and/or philosophy of race and gender, either as one desired area of specialization or competence, or as an area in which the successful candidate may be asked to teach (the areas are not always listed among the AOSs or AOCs; they may only show up in the full text of the advertisement). Restricting the job advertisements to the US, the percentage is no doubt higher. Hence, there are significantly fewer jobs for which closet conservatives can apply, at least if they wish to stay in the closet. Of course, once they come out of the closet, they face all the problems that were mentioned in the beginning.
As said, there seems to be a growing percentage of job advertisements in philosophy mentioning feminist philosophy and the philosophy of race and gender as at least desirable areas of competence. To some extent, this change could simply reflect a growing interest in these areas. But given what was said earlier, there could also be another motivation, namely, to signal to both open and closet conservatives that they need not apply. Whether or not this is the intended effect, it certainly is an expected effect. And, unless there is some strong counteracting force, the effect will lead to even fewer conservatives in philosophy than there are today.
- Live and Let Live, or Let the Left Live? - March 31, 2017
- Philosophy’s Culture of Silence - March 1, 2017
- Against Open Borders - February 8, 2017
- Implicit Bias: From Early Death to Failed Resurrection - January 17, 2017
- On What Doesn’t Seem to Matter - December 28, 2016
- Closet Conservatives - December 12, 2016