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October 11, 2005

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JRT

It merely requires common sense to understand why academics tend to be liberal. The two biggest factors are: 1) Religion and the right. Thinking people reject the illogic of organized religion, and revolt against the dominance of religion in modern American society. Political liberalism is one one way to distance themselves from the religious herd, since the majority of conservatives in this country are religious; 2) Correlation between competitiveness and political leanings. Comparatively speaking, academic professor is not the most competitive of positions by nature. No profession is free from competition, and so there is a fair bit of wrangling for stature, but it's far from the darwinian "tournament" landscape of Corporate America. I don't have any empirical studies to back this up, but in the main, my experience tells me that the more competitive someone is, the more likely they are to bestow inherent value on the outcome of competitive struggle. This glorification of the result of competition also explains the popularity of sport. There is a similarity between this point and the first, because the second view, as well as the first, is illogical. The professor who spends most of his time deep in thought will not value such a brainless ideal. Competitive outcomes are often based just as much on chance as actual merit, says the professor. The system makes no sense. And so it doesn't. And yet it does, in a way, if solely because so many people are willing to go along with it.

It makes perfect sense to me that professors are liberals, just as it makes perfect sense to me that corporate moguls are conservative. File this one under obvious.

JRT

It merely requires common sense to understand why academics tend to be liberal. The two biggest factors are: 1) Religion and the right. Thinking people reject the illogic of organized religion, and revolt against the dominance of religion in modern American society. Political liberalism is one one way to distance themselves from the religious herd, since the majority of conservatives in this country are religious; 2) Correlation between competitiveness and political leanings. Comparatively speaking, academic professor is not the most competitive of positions by nature. No profession is free from competition, and so there is a fair bit of wrangling for stature, but it's far from the darwinian "tournament" landscape of Corporate America. I don't have any empirical studies to back this up, but in the main, my experience tells me that the more competitive someone is, the more likely they are to bestow inherent value on the outcome of competitive struggle. This glorification of the result of competition also explains the popularity of sport. There is a similarity between this point and the first, because the second view, as well as the first, is illogical. The professor who spends most of his time deep in thought will not value such a brainless ideal. Competitive outcomes are often based just as much on chance as actual merit, says the professor. The system makes no sense. And so it doesn't. And yet it does, in a way, if solely because so many people are willing to go along with it.

It makes perfect sense to me that professors are liberals, just as it makes perfect sense to me that corporate moguls are conservative. File this one under obvious.

anon

is there a refutation of Horiwitz' thesis in this post? I assumed as much.

Dave

Here is a not-inconsistent variation on Professor Sunstein’s theme. The college and law school I attended was a large Ivy League institution with a reputation for having both a liberal faculty and student body. In my experience, this reputation was justified. The majority of the student body tended to agree politically, and though I don’t know what their political predilections were beforehand, I wouldn’t be surprised if their ideas shifted farther left because of polarization. What I noticed much more, though, was that campus conservatives—though outnumbered in absolute terms—tended to be particularly vocal, visible, and well-organized. It seemed to me then that their self-conception as an embattled minority group led to a sense of purpose and direction that sharpened and, I suspect, polarized their views.

Professor Sunstein’s work suggests that homogeneous groups tend to go to extremes of opinion. There is also work suggesting that the presence of dissenters tends to cause groups to reach more moderate consensus. However, my college and law school experience—which is, of course, just an anecdotal example—suggests that heterogeneity alone is not enough to overcome group polarization. There, the presence of a minority of conservatives within an otherwise liberal campus didn’t moderate opinion, but seems to have exacerbated preexisting ideological differences by driving people farther into opposite camps. One implication may be that it’s not enough to look at how groups are constituted in terms of the political predilections of individual members in order to think about how polarization works, but that it matters also how those groups are constituted and how their members interact. It also casts doubt on the notion that deliberative democracy is an attractive political model, because it might cause division rather than consensus (though I suppose it’s another question whether achieving consensus is itself a normatively attractive goal).

DC

JRT said:
The two biggest factors are: 1) Religion and the right. Thinking people reject the illogic of organized religion, and revolt against the dominance of religion in modern American society.
----

This reflects your own lack of understanding rather than on the truth of the matter. Religion and reason are by no means mutually exclusive. Many of the greatest thinkers in history were religious, and often worked in a religious framework. The idea that religion is illogical and must be relegated to the intellectual dungeon is quite simply a mistake. Just because you hear Pat Roberts all the time does not mean that Aquinas is also illogical.

You could possibly be correct in saying that many academics suffer from the same misconceptions that you do, but I don't think that is the point you were trying to make.

Francis

Re JRT -Anytime you hear someone say something as stupid as "Thinking people" do this or that, you know you are listening to a ding-a-ling.

ekf

It makes sense that law and journalism faculty would tend to vote for the Democratic party for reasons associated with the law and the press. The current formulation of the Republican party disparages lawyers and the media (or, as Bush calls them, the "filter") and seeks to enact policies that frustrate the practice of law (so-called tort "reform" and the radical stacking of the judicial branch) and the freedom of the press (governmental opacity, spin/manipulation). Without respect to broaders strokes of liberalism or conservatism, partisan divides with respect to the law and the press sensibly align with personal interest, creating a very typical incentive structure to vote with the Democratic party. Voting patterns do not seem to automatically indicate radicalism or polarization of liberalism or conservatism in either field

I do not dispute group polarization as a phenomenon, but it seems to make sense to tease out more why those two fields were chosen -- and how that choice may interact with the group polarization thesis. For example, this particular study doesn't tell us anything about faculty in business schools, engineering programs or economics departments, all of which may have a disproportionate number of Republican voters (for reasons that may also align with their professional interests and therefore again be completely predictable in their incentive structure). Given Horowitz's demagoguery, I'd guess he chose his study populations purposefully and politically. But if group polarization is in effect, do we not also need to ask about those other populations that may vote Republcan? Do we not also need to examine how their groups may either polarize in opposition or modulate the Democratic alignment in other parts of the academic community?

I wish Horowitz would schedule his campus tours at the very-well-known conservative institutions around the country and get enough hairpats from his sycophants so he'll relax a little. His constant axe-grinding about liberal academia wears so thin so quickly, especially to a reader like me who was told I was "brave" to admit to being a liberal at Harriet Miers' (and my) alma mater, SMU -- in 1990, the height of the so-called "political correctness" period. There are conservative and liberal campuses. Sun rises in East, water is wet, etc.

ardent_capitalist

"Those who can, do. Those who can't teach."

How long have we heard about human rights abuses from the left and faculty courses on the subject. Now the Neo-Cons are actually doing something about it...trying. Take a human rights course at the typical university and you will talk about esoteric idealism and never reach a viable solution.

Ironic that the ivory tower is supported by the contributions of wealthy capitalist individuals, corporations that hire graduates (of grad and undergrad). Why would a capitalist eschew profit and oppurtunity for the relative safety of tenure at a top school?

Clayton E. Cramer

"I wish Horowitz would schedule his campus tours at the very-well-known conservative institutions around the country and get enough hairpats from his sycophants so he'll relax a little."

It would not be much of a tour, would it? Could you give me a list of "very-well-known conservative institutions" around the country? You can stop when you get a list of twenty universities where faculity voter registration has more Republicans than Democrats.

Bob

I appreciate the heads-up regarding the impact of group polarization upon juries. I believe there is a common sense awareness among trial lawyers that people with a common system of beliefs or backgrounds are likely to move more dramatically in one direction or another. A major problem today, however, is that some strongly held prejudices against plaintiffs are not historically consistent with social background or beliefs about other matters.

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