berkeley’s center for the for the comparative study of right-wing movements

For previous orgtheory discussion of right politics: Brayden on the emerging sociology scholarship of the right; Steve Teles and I discuss his book on conservative lawyers here, here, here, and here; my post on Nixon’s legacy.

The Chronicle has an article on Berkeley’s new center for the study of conservative politics by Columbia prof Mark Lilla. (Click here for the Center website). A few clips from Lilla’s article:

It’s not even clear that the faculty members involved have figured out what terms like “right wing” and “conservative” might mean. The Web-site blurb introducing the center describes anti-Communism as the “transcendent” issue for the right for most of the 20th century, and says that since the end of the cold war, right-wing groups have “spun on to the political stage with centripetal energy,” whatever that means. This statement does not inspire confidence. In fact, the right-wing political parties in Europe have much older pedigrees, going back to the 19th-century counterrevolution. So do American and British conservatism, which came onto the political scene at least a century before 1989. In his recent book, The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History (Yale University Press), Patrick Allitt, a professor of history at Emory University, explores the full range of conservative concerns: states’ rights, religion, the corruptions of urban life, immigration, the League of Nations, mass democracy, creationism, the New Deal, free markets, race, and so on.

Agreed. Many folks are very uncomfortable with the idea and have inaccurate views. This, however, I found bizarre:

But universities show not the slightest interest in intellectual diversity among faculty members. That wouldn’t matter if teachers could be counted on to introduce students to their adversaries’ books and views, but we know how rarely that happens. That’s why political diversity on the faculty does matter. As it stands, there is a far greater proportion of conservatives in the student body of typical colleges than on the faculty. A few leading thinkers on the right do teach at our top universities—but at some, like Columbia University, where I teach, not a single prominent conservative is to be found.

While it’s true that some disciplines, like soc, are conservative light, there are many more in economics, politics, the law schools, and business. There should also be many in the sciences, where, presumably, your politics wouldn’t matter. Columbia should have a number of prominent folks. I think he exaggerates here. But here’s a good quote:

There are lessons for conservatives, too. Anti-intellectualism has always dogged conservative tradition (you betcha!), and figures like David Horowitz, who stoke the hysteria, only contribute to the dumbing down. Hopped up on Fox News, too many young conservatives have become ignorant of the conservative intellectual tradition and incapable of engaging civilly with their adversaries. The truth is that a former student of Paul Lyons probably has a greater chance of becoming a serious conservative thinker than a follower of Horowitz does.

We should get people reading great ideas from all traditions.  Can’t argue with that.

Written by fabiorojas

September 13, 2009 at 4:22 am

14 Responses

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  1. This Pew Center study would seem to suggest that conservative scientists are greatly outnumbered. You’ll tend to see more in engineering schools, I think, but science itself, not so much.



    September 13, 2009 at 8:26 am

  2. There should also be many in the sciences, where, presumably, your politics wouldn’t matter.

    Unless, perhaps, you cared at all about the prevailing attitude of the main political parties toward science.



    September 13, 2009 at 11:26 am

  3. As a recovering Columbia faculty member, I’m a little surprised to see the university described as lacking in prominent conservatives. Glenn Hubbard, dean of the business school, served in two Bush administrations, chaired W’s Council of Economic Advisors, designed the 2003 tax cuts, and was the economic advisor to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Admittedly, he did not yell “You lie!” during my job talk, but I still consider him a prominent conservative. Does the author need to see Ann Coulter appointed dean of SIPA?


    Jerry Davis

    September 13, 2009 at 12:16 pm

  4. I am surprised at Lilla’s statement that academia has essentially ignored conservative movements. Social scientists have been studying conservative/revivalist religious movements (evangelicals, islamists, ultra-orthodox jews, etc.) since the 1980s. And sociologists like Kathleen Blee and Rebecca Klatch have done really interesting work on women and right-wing movements. But what Lilla really seems to want is not only for theory or philosophy courses to add conservative thinkers to the canon, but for more conservatives to be in prominent university positions. From my perspective, there already are quite a few in schools of business and government/public policy. Political science departments also have some conservative faculty members. But why would major figures teach when they can make better money as CEOs, lobbyists, or fellows at the American Enterprise Institute?



    September 13, 2009 at 4:42 pm

  5. My guess is that the center’s focus on “rightwing movements” will consist entirely of anti-black, anti-gay, and pro-gun groups which will obviously paint a terrible characture of the conservative movement in the United States (and will probably make for just plain bad social research).

    My favorite line from the article was “Horowitz is an annoying man, and what’s most annoying about him is that … he has a point.” Most people in academia don’t like to admit it, but they do let their aversion to conservative thought affect their interactions with students and other faculty. As someone with classical liberal leanings (most academics don’t know the difference), I’ve been dealing with it for some time now (especially with my interest in race and labor).

    After I came out of the rational choice closet with one professor, he straight up told me I would never make it anywhere because of this. In another incident, I had a pleasant series of email exhchanges with a VERY prominent sociologist until she discovered my school of thought and the exchanges abruptly stopped. This is in addition to the countless professors who write off people such as Hayek and Friedman as “ideologues.”

    Luckily, I haven’t experienced any of that at Albany (quite the opposite as the students and faculty seem intrigued) and I have also had plenty of great conversations with Crits and neo-marxists, but I know it’s going to be a problem when I hit the job market.



    September 13, 2009 at 11:49 pm

  6. After I came out of the rational choice closet with one professor, he straight up told me I would never make it anywhere because of this

    What, exactly, are the scope conditions of “anywhere” in this sentence?



    September 14, 2009 at 12:13 am

  7. Isn’t it possible that someone can be a great theorist and an ideologue? The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

    I also don’t really equate rational choice theory with conservatism. Most economists embrace some sort of rational choice theory, yet you couldn’t classify most economists as politically conservative.



    September 14, 2009 at 12:35 am

  8. I agree…there is at least one soc department I know well that has explicitly referred to themselves as a “rational choice” department and there are several prominent sociologists who study RCT. And, there are a handful of well-known libertarian sociologists at top schools.



    September 14, 2009 at 1:13 am

  9. Equating RCT and conservatism is ridiculous; analytic Marxism anyone? I am in a department that is historically sympathetic to RCT but the average political views of department members are quite liberal. I find that RCT and its serious consideration of market mechanisms to be refreshing and challenging. Knee-jerk rejection of anything with a whiff of a market is quite irritating.

    I do find the reluctance to study conservatism to be quite a disservice to the advancement of knowledge and further find that most academics have no interest in having a concise operational definition of what conservatism is, and instead focus on what is wrong with it and how to fix it. Conservatism is not a “social problem.”

    Also, I am not a conservative.



    September 14, 2009 at 1:41 am

  10. Kieran: Not really sure what he meant, but since I got into Albany it looks like he didn’t really know what he was talking about. My point is that it was quite scary for a young guy worried about getting into a good PhD program to hear this.

    Brayden: I agree but the professors in these cases were using these terms (ideologue and rational choice) in a pejorative way.

    I hope my comment didn’t make it sound like this was a probably among all sociologists. My guess is that the problem is with professors that came out of the radical 1960s and academic-activists who take public sociology way to far.



    September 14, 2009 at 2:35 am

  11. “While it’s true that some disciplines, like soc, are conservative light, there are many more in economics, politics, the law schools, and business. There should also be many in the sciences, where, presumably, your politics wouldn’t matter.”

    This poll done by Horowitz

    suggests that the bias persists across all of those fields.



    September 16, 2009 at 5:39 am

  12. @Alex: Actually, the site you link is explicit about including ONLY liberal arts:
    “The Center study examined the party voting registrations of faculty and administrators in selected departments at 32 top schools including the entire Ivy League, Amherst, MIT, and UC Berkeley. Departments studied included Economics, History, English, Philosophy, Political Science and Sociology. Liberal arts departments were emphasized because these areas of study focus on issues that affect society at large and make it more likely that political perspectives will enter into classroom dialogue.”
    Not to be pedantic, but I would not call this method a “poll,” and prevalence of party registration is not the same as “bias.”


    Jerry Davis

    September 16, 2009 at 12:14 pm

  13. jerry and alex,
    Cardiff and Klein is a little better for the question of “what about business and professional schools.” it basically shows that in these fields, the ratios are much less skewed than in the social sciences and humanities, but still tend towards the Democrats. b-schools are close to parity and engineering schools are about 4:1. according to Cardiff and Klein, the only area of the university that is plurality Republican is military/sports.
    Although this study is based on party registration which is an imperfect proxy for ideology, Klein has another series of studies (mostly w Stern) which asks detailed questions about many policy areas but only to humanities and social science faculty.
    FWIW, Klein is a pretty staunch libertarian and so a lot of his publications on this tend to emphasize the “statism” dimension that he finds salient rather than a more conventional left-right continuum in which “statist” tendencies on social issues are negatively correlated with those on economic issues. if you’re interested in the more conventional view of ideology, see this appendix in which Stern takes a completely inductive approach to the data.
    Also, I agree that a finding of strong partisan/ideological skew does not necessarily translate into “bias” (in research, teaching, or hiring), though one can see how it might make it plausible, with or without an assumption of good faith. Ironically such a model that skew=bias assumes limits to professionalism such that work fails to transcend personality.



    September 16, 2009 at 5:00 pm

  14. ps,
    also see gross and simmons. the findings are similar to klein and stern.



    September 16, 2009 at 5:06 pm

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