“A certain kind of conservative”

Remember Oxford Professor of the Philosophy of Law Leslie Green, who stated that conservatives are not welcome at universities “because they are universities”? (Here, here and here are some good responses.) Admittedly, Green went on to qualify his claim by restricting it to “a certain kind of conservative” (at least at one point). However, he did not mention other, more welcome kinds of conservatives.

At least in this respect, Professor Joseph Heath, of the University of Toronto, does slightly better in a recent blog post. He distinguishes between “rational” and other conservatives, and writes that only the latter are underrepresented in academia:

Rational conservative ideologies, such as libertarianism, are not underrepresented in the academy – on the contrary, they are probably over-represented, relative to their actual support in the population. What is underrepresented in the academy, for obvious reasons, is the version of conservatism that scorns expertise in all forms and takes political positions that are only sustainable if one discounts both empirical evidence and rational argument.

Whether, besides libertarianism, there are any other “conservative” views that deserve to be called “rational”, Heath does not say. For all Heath tells us, if you are a conservative but not a libertarian, then you are the kind of conservative who is not welcome at universities because they are universities—presumably, institutions aimed at rational inquiry. For example, if you are “Trumpian” with respect to immigration, Heath tells us, then you reject one of the “remaining rationalist components in contemporary conservatism”. And if you believe in traditional family values, then you have one of these problematic “right-wing ideas that have no empirical or rational support”.

In a very similar vein, Professor Anthony Appiah, of New York University, cannot come up with any names of conservatives in academia who are worth inviting for a lecture. The following is an excerpt from a recent, three-part interview:

KAA: I wouldn’t invite [Charles Murray], but I would permit the invitation. I think there are cleverer Conservative intellectuals than Murray who I’d rather hear.

DK: Like?

KAA: I read stuff from the Cato Institute. Maybe they don’t count as Conservative anymore, because they’re anti-Trump… I don’t know their names because I don’t read the names. I don’t agree with many of the arguments, but they seem like arguments.

Note: one of the most distinguished philosophers of the moment, a former Princeton Professor and a recipient of the 2011 National Humanities Medal, cannot come up with a single name of a conservative intellectual that he would be willing to invite! He cannot even bring himself to acknowledge that some of them—the libertarians of the Cato Institute—present real arguments (“they seem like arguments”).

Green, Heath, and Appiah are mentioned here only because they are very prominent philosophers, and because their statements have appeared in recent blog posts and interviews. There is no reason to think that Green, Heath, and Appiah are less tolerant of conservatism than the average academic. The opposite is probably true. For example, Heath reports that he is often “the most right-wing person in the room” when there is an academic seminar. One shudders to think how conservatives and conservative views are regarded by the other people in the room.

Bob le flambeur

Bob le flambeur is a professional philosopher who enjoys the finer things in life, but who is afraid that his opinions about politically sensitive topics are becoming unaffordable. Hence, he has decided to go underground.

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  1. No one believes more firmly than Comrades Greene, Heath, and Appiah that all men are equal. They would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?

  2. In other words, conserving liberalism is the only “rational” conservatism. But the gold standard of stupidity is this definition of coservatism:

    the version of conservatism that scorns expertise in all forms and takes political positions that are only sustainable if one discounts both empirical evidence and rational argument.

    The idiots have taken over.

    • Urban II, I’d say that they are equating ‘conservatism of that sort’ (in some way distinctive of conservatism but not other ideologies, like libertarianism or leftism) with streaks of anti-intellectualism that you’ll find in large parts of the American electorate. I think the GOP/McCain shit the bed when it nominated Palin for the VP slot in ’08, and then pooh-poohed her lack of expertise on the grounds that she’s “got the right val-yooos!” (even though she never reads books?). Trump is a different creature altogether; and he only received a 38% plurality among Republicans, remember. Anyway, what Profs. Appiah et al might want to do is to seek out the strongest representatives of conservative thought (e.g., Thomas Sowell) that they can rather than belittle ‘conservatism’ as advanced by slackjawed yokels. They can do more to engage with climate-‘consensus’ critics like Richard Lindzen if competing expertise is (pro-)actively sought out. They can be more forthcoming about the ‘progressivism of that sort’ which rejects, say, the expertise of countless economists who recommend freer markets and more limited government for greater long-term prosperity. What errors of cognition might have driven the Bernie Sanders crowd, that the left-leaning media rather overlooked? How on earth would Crazy Bernie have been able to run an executive branch right now with the GOP swarming in opposition, with serious strategic global issues seething, etc.? What a effing joke. Socialism is a joke. Why isn’t this widely if not universally known on college campuses by now?? Who needs ‘progressivism of that sort’? Wow. And when can we get libertarians into greater representation in the academic discussion, it’s rather overdue.

    • Ultimate Philosopher,

      If Sarah Palin and large parts of the American electorate is what is meant by that kind of “conservatism”, I still regard it as stupid. There literally is no conservatism that scorns all expertise and rejects all empirical evidence and rational argument as a matter of principle. That is simply a mental caricature created by SJWs to boost their inflated ego. Many Republican voters are uneducated or ignorant, but being without intellect isn’t anti-intellectualism. It’s not like Black Lives Matter, Antifa and these little snowflakes on campus distrupting class and demanding take home exams because exams are hard are shining examples of intellect. I’ll take middle America over these whining, safe space snowflakes any day of the week.

  3. “And if you believe in traditional family values, then you have one of these problematic ‘right-wing ideas that have no empirical or rational support’.”

    This assertion is so unequivocally false, it’s calumnious. Just really unbecoming for a philosopher of any repute.

  4. It’s pretty much an exact mirror/opposite image of the Rightly Considered website (have Appiah et al even heard of RC, and if not, how come?), where you do actually have some conservative philosophers (of varying quality IMO – Catholic Hulk is pretty strong IMO) but they deem it necessary to post under pseudonyms. Why is that? Can there be a dialogue about that, to bring these rather separate universes closer together just a little bit anyway? Like, ASAP?

    Can we also dialogue about how the university graduate-level diversity initiatives for various philosophy programs now, are a rather sneaky way of bringing about greater ideological uniformity (of a leftist sort) in academe? I mean, demographically speaking it’s what these outreach programs touted by Leiter et al (in his recent blog post http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2017/11/nyu-and-pitt-both-philosophy-and-hps-will-waive-application-fees-for-members-of-certain-underreprese.html ) would virtually guarantee more of, right? How can they not see that? Even when Haidt manages to shame them a little, they seem to only pay lip service to ideological outreach. What have we come to in philosophy?

    • I agree that this should be our attitude. But it’s not easy to spend time on “true innovation and superb scholarship” if one is prevented from working at a genuine research institution and/or if one is denied research grants for ideological reasons. For the same reasons, it may be difficult to impress a potential audience.

  5. What’s also dismaying is that Professor Appiah thinks the Cato Institute was *ever* conservative. They are libertarian, and you could call them conservative, but they probably don’t like it. They are very happy when they can do things like call for drug legalization that distinguish them from conservatives. Charles Murray is much closer to conservatism, but he, too, is a libertarian.

    • True. Heath, too, considers libertarianism to be a form a conservatism. By “conservative” they seem to mean “right-wing”.

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