I hate to admit it, but Ed Felser may have a point about something, at least. In attacking the teaching practices in Philosophy departments he says:
If, for example, a course in political philosophy is offered in which the readings comprise selections from the likes of the liberal philosopher John Rawls, the libertarian Robert Nozick, and various feminist and left-of-center communitarian critics of Rawls, with no conservative writers assigned at all and with Nozick treated as an easily-refuted eccentric whose views are not shared by any other contemporary philosopher worth reading, then students will—obviously—get the impression that the left-of-center views are the only realistic options. And this sort of thing is, I submit, extremely common in the contemporary university.
I observed this pretty much as soon as I taught my first upper-division political philosophy course. You start with Rawls, because you feel obliged to treat them to a proper, fully articulated, theory of justice, and also to give them a reasonably good sense of the field. You move onto Nozick, who is very clever but full of incomplete arguments, and intuitions that he passes off as arguments, along with apparently willful misreadings of his colleague. You use Dworkin, maybe Raz, and some commentators on Rawls, including perhaps Jerry Cohen. You might introduce some feminist work (easier to do now than 13 years ago). And you complete it with Sandel and a bit of MacIntyre (or MacIntyre and a bit of Sandel), which involves many of the same misreadings of Rawls.
Now, a course like that succeeds in the two main missions I feel obliged to carry out: giving a true sense of the nature of the field, and structuring the students’ learning so that they learn how to reason sharply and do political philosophy analytically.
It succeeds particularly well at the latter because Rawls himself is so at odds with the intuitive politics almost all students, left or right, bring in with them; so they have resources to scrutinize the theory with. But it completely fails to give a balanced picture of the conceptual space, or of the political ideas that predominate in public discourse – conservative political perspectives are almost completely absent from such a course (though I would say that Raz, MacIntyre, and Sandel all deploy some conservative ideas)
Do we have an obligation to cover conceptual space and/or the space of public discourse in a course in a philosophy department? Teachers of metaphysics and epistemology are bound by neither obligation, and a good thing too. It’s a fair complaint that we teach Nozick. I stopped doing it when I found my impatience with him getting the better of me. ASU has always struck me as a bit slapdash—and the best philosophy in it has little to do with his defence of his political philosophy. Fortunately, there are much more powerful and philosophically thorough defenses of libertarianism than Nozick’s, and my own preference has been to use them (Loren Lomasky’s far superior and unjustly neglected Persons Rights and the Moral Community, for example). I also like to use Milton Friedman’s brilliant little book Capitalism and Freedom, a defense of classical liberalism which occasionally invokes more conservative ideas than most libertarians countenance. Though it, too, makes numerous philosophical errors it is easier to be patient because it has so much else of value in it and because Friedman, who was not the most brilliant philosopher of his generation, does not seem so culpable for philosophical carelessness.
But complaining that we don’t, in a course on contemporary political philosophy, teach conservative thought, smacks a little of blaming the victim. I’m an analytical philosopher, and I teach analytical philosophy, and part of the point of conservative political thought is that it eschews the need for systematic and rigorous intellectual justification of conservatism. The burden of proof is on the rest of us. So, there are (or were when I started) no appropriate books defending conservatism for inclusion in such a course. Since then John Kekes has written an excellent analytic book Against Liberalism, which is eminently usable, and a much less impressive book The Case for Conservatism, which I found to be too schematic to be useful in class.
I should say that I have tried to include conservative perspectives in my courses (since the first time, 13 years ago). This is not so as to map the conceptual or current political space, but because I think that on some issues conservatives have interesting things to say, and arguments worth considering, as well as because these perspectives are challenging to students. So I look hard for high quality analytical conservative literature to include in my courses – harder than I do for left or liberal literature, because on the whole I won’t find it in the top journals in the field (which I read routinely). I regret, enormously, Stephen Macedo’s gradual turn away from the right, as it has deprived me of one interesting right wing thinker (he’s becoming an interesting left wing thinker, unfortunately). But the best way to include conservative thought is by breaking the course down a bit so that it is not primarily about theories, and systematic philosophies, but about particular issues, on which conservatives might have written papers responding to left and liberal attempts to meet the burden of proof. Gay Marriage, family values, issues about healthcare and education, issues about global redistribution, and the morality of a system of states, all enable me to construct a course which reflects the state of the field but also elicits a variety of perspectives. Sometimes philosophers who are not systematically conservative present conservative arguments on particular issues (Galston is a good example of this). But some of the best of this work is not by philosophers, but by economists, political scientists and legal scholars (the new natural lawyers, for example), and even journalists (Commentary is a reasonably good source if you, as a teacher, are willing to do a great deal of work elucidating the structure of an argument and finding its rational kernel). To be honest, my neo-con father-in-law and Promise-Keeper, Fundamentalist uncle-in-law are more help to me in finding good sources than my professional colleagues. Good suggestions are always welcome.
Maybe Felser could resist the temptations of public notoriety and do us all a service by writing a systematic, analytical, defense of conservative thought. There’s a gap in the market.