Are campus conservatives attentive students?

by Harry on January 31, 2010

This story about the Mary Landrieu 4 contains an unfortunate slur against the Rutgers Philosophy department:

As a philosophy major at Rutgers University, Mr. O’Keefe came to believe that conservative-leaning students were being force-fed a diet of academic liberalism. As he put it at the time, they were “drowned in relativism, concepts of distributive justice and redistribution of wealth.”

Now, I do believe that he may have encountered the concepts of distributive justice and the redistribution of wealth in that department (that he finds this problematic is odd, since he seems to have committed himself to a career aimed at redistributing wealth in accordance with a partiuclar conception of distributive justice, but what can you do?). But I took a look at the faculty list, and cannot imagine who was drowning him in relativism (especially of the moral variety which is the kind that is hinted at). Not one of the normative philosophers in that department is a relativist and I imagine that most of them, like me and most of their colleagues, explain fairly clearly why most of what happens in their courses makes no sense unless relativism is false. I anticipate that some them read CT occasionally and can correct me if I’m wrong, but I’d be surprised. Less honorable victims would consider suing. I’m surprised that someone with a libertarian economic tilt is willing to accept massive public subsidies to fund his education but feels no obligation to learn anything.

I guess I shouldn’t be too harsh. The only time I have been accused of political bias in my own teaching was on the day after the 2004 Presidential election. I received a vile, hate-filled, email message from a student (with a fake email address) which made reference to several comments I had made (none of them about contemporary politics) in the previous day’s class, and which blamed me and people like me for the re-election of the President. (Not the first piece of hate mail I’ve received, but the first since I became a professor). If the comments the student referred to, which any attentive student would have seen as outlining, though not endorsing, an extremely left-wing conception of distributive justice, had not been so clear, I suppose I should have been pleased that my own political views are not readily recognizable from my teaching.

European exceptionalism (updated)

by John Q on January 31, 2010

I’d like to broaden John H’s discussion of the US as a center-right nation to consider the broader idea that the US is, in some sense, exceptional. As Barack Obama correctly pointed out not so long ago, every nation is exceptional in its own way, which tends to undermine the idea that any nation is specially exceptional.

Still, compared to the developed world in general, it seems obvious that the US is different in lots of ways: an outlier in terms of nationalism, military power, religiosity, working hours and inequality of outcomes and (in the opposite direction) in terms of government intervention, health outcomes and other measures typically associated with welfare states. Among these the outstanding differences arise from the fact that the US aspires, with some success, to be globally hegemonic in military terms and (with rather less success) in economic terms as well.

But, when you think about it, there is nothing exceptional here.
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Center-Right Nation?

by John Holbo on January 31, 2010

This one comes up from time to time, so let’s consider: “America is a center-right nation.” In some sense, this is probably right. Yglesias, a year ago: “I would go stronger than that, actually, and posit that American politics in the future will mostly be dominated by a center-right political coalition just as it always has. This is just how things work. A political coalition grounded in the social mores of the ethno-sectarian majority and the ideas of the business class has overwhelming intrinsic advantages against contrary movements grounded in the complaints of minority groups and the economic claims of the lower orders.” (But is that too strong? Was the U.S. a center-right nation at the height of the New Deal?)

But there are clear senses in which it is not right that the U.S. is a center-right nation. For example, it’s at least odd to have a center-right nation that lacks a center-right. There aren’t that many Olympia Snowes around – not even Olympia Snowe herself, during this whole health care business. It’s not as though America is the country where, when you elect a guy like Obama, you have to beat the center-right off with a stick, compromise-wise, when the center-left is plainly crying out to meet somewhere in the middle.

I have my own thoughts about this, but I’ll just throw this out. How is it possible, and what does it mean, to have a center-right nation, ideologically and electorally, that lacks a center-right, ideologically and electorally?