Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Bobby's World!: Conservative Academic Reform and Liberal Influence on the US Military

Bobby Bran of Bobby's World! recently commented on a TNR article dealing with attempts by Conservatives to push more conservative voices within academia, comparing this to liberal attempts, such as the Civic Soldier Forum, to encourage more interaction between progressives and military personnel.
My perception is that the so-called left-wing bias of American universities is prevalent, but I don't really know that to be definitively true since my contact with the academic world has been relatively limited (college, graduate school, and presenting papers at about a dozen academic conferences hardly qualifies me as an expert on America's campuses). That said, I find it interesting that the right-wingers want to penetrate this liberal stronghold with conservative ideas, in much the same way as the progressives are trying to build a bridge between the left-wing and the conservative bastion known as the US military (for example, the Civic Soldier Forum, a contact-to-contact exchange advanced by both J. at Armchair Generalist and Alex at Draft Zinni).
He also notes a couple of problems with the conservative attempts, namely that there simply aren't that many conservative thinkers in many areas. After all- how many conservative Cultural Studies professors are you really going to find out there?

But let me just say, I think that this is a really terrible comparison and the idea of conservative "balance" on campus is in my eyes truly absurd. For starters many departments have absolutely nothing to do with politics: what exactly would constitute a conservative scientist, mathematician, designer, or architect? Certainly there are differing schools of thought within many of these areas, and schools should be aiming to achieve a balance of thought in any area of study they offer, but these divisions will have little to nothing to do with politics.

I would also point out that many of the more powerful departments on campuses nationwide are actually conservative. If Horowitz is going to push for balance in Cultural Studies (an area of study which I care little for to begin with), fine, but liberals should then push back hard in the areas where conservatives dominate. How about we force every economics and business teacher to give equal time to Marx and Keynes as they do to the conservative thoughts of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School? How about we force the corporate focused law departments to give equal time to public interest law? I will say that Political Science departments are definitely in need of some diversification, and I personally would welcome it, but not using Horowitz's tactics.

But more importantly, there is a real problem in equating the neo-Fascist Horowitz movement to anything like the Civic Soldier Forum. Sure both have the same end goal, to get better representation in an organization which they are underrepresented within, but so what? A bank robber has the same goal as an entrepreneur-- to make money-- but would you really compare the two? The Horowitz crowd wants to use intimidation and other tactics which are inherently uncivil to force teachers to adopt conservative positions (or to silence themselves about their own positions), regardless of what the evidence might be to support their views. The Civic Soldier Forum, on the other hand, lists these as its goals:
  • Find progressive service members and bring them together
  • Introduce those service members to like-minded organizations
  • Help progressives out of uniform connect with military progressives
  • Frame progressive issues in context relevant to the military
Where in these goals do we find something which would force the military itself to diversify the thoughts amongst the soldiers or leaders? There's no attempt to brow-beat the opposition or force institutional change. All they are trying to do is connect people who share similar world views and frame issues in terms of those world views.

There's also this little problem with many right-wing thinkers, at least along the lines of Horowitz, Coulter, Hannity, Assrocket and the like- their aversion to facts and difference of opinion. I can just imagine Horowitz teaching a class on Israel and telling every student who even brought up the plight of the Palestinians that they were anti-Semitic scumbags. Not that there aren't a-holes on the left, who also like to ignore facts and spout garbage, there are, it's just that the university setting generally forces them to adopt more rigorous and moderate stands within the classroom (well, unless they've published a popular book).

The last thing that I would say is this- the military might not currently have a lot of people who identify with the Democratic Party, but I would guess that there are quite a few who agree fully with many, if not most, of the issues which Democrats stand for. Do you think that a lot of soldiers would stand with the credit card companies and not with consumers? Do soldiers think that health care should only be a privilege enjoyed by a few? Do they think that it's fair that government taxes the hell out of the little guy while corporations and the wealthy get tax breaks? Do they think that it's a a-o-k to ship our jobs overseas and allow businesses to pay illegal immigrants a fraction of what American citizens make? Do they think that the racial discrimination is ok? My guess is that, as with society on the whole, uniformed men and women would side with the Democrats on most issues, but rather that they vote on issues of character.

The job then of groups like the Civil Soldier Forum is to educate service members on issues, and teach them why voting on character is just plain stupid. Why is it stupid? As Machiavelli noted (emphasis added):
For this reason a prince ought to take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete with the above-named five qualities, that he may appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality, inasmuch as men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, because it belongs to everybody to see you, to few to come in touch with you. Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result.

For that reason, let a prince have the credit of conquering and holding his state, the means will always be considered honest, and he will be praised by everybody because the vulgar are always taken by what a thing seems to be and by what comes of it; and in the world there are only the vulgar, for the few find a place there only when the many have no ground to rest on.