14 June 2005

When Scott (and Daren and Kenneth) met Hayek

On the conservative movement’s subsidization of its next generation(s) of applied intellectuals.

It’s no surprise that this is the case, if you work on a college
campus.  As I have noted before, the conservative students here
and at Berkeley were often the most thoughtful about why
they
held the political beliefs that they do.  (More than one of my
favorite students have been *gasp* Republicans, and I know that at
least one of them reads this blog [Hi, Liz!].) Yes, they are a definite
minority, but the refining fire of having to defend themselves over and
over again has sharpened them.  Probably a similar proportion of
the liberal students are as equally well equipped.  The vast
majority of our students seem to be center-left to left but aren’t sure
why that is.  Lest anyone think this is a trait peculiar to one
side of the political spectrum, I now plenty of conservatives (mostly
from my hometown and family) who know what they believe but not why
they believe it.  Conformity knows no party.

I think the conservative claim, implied in this article and stated in
other places, that there’s some sort of liberal orthodoxy enforced on
college campuses by a sort of doctoral gestapo is highly misleading, if
not a lie.  In our capacity as teachers, most of us work very hard
to obscure our own political beliefs and to teach our students to think
critically no matter whether they agree with the views presented or
not.  And since many of my students are unthinkingly toward the
left, I tend to present a conservative viewpoint at least as often as a
liberal one.  When my students ask me on paper what I want to see
(in not so many words), I end up repeating over and over (and grading
as such) that I don’t care if they write something that I might agree
with–if it is badly argued, I will pull it apart and their grade will
be less than the highest.  Some of them do actually learn to
question all received wisdom, and that can only be good in their
political, personal, and spiritual lives.

But for all the talk in this article, I don’t think that this is what
is happening in programs like Heritage’s.  Are these students,
when they read Hayek also reading Polanyi?  If they read Burke,
are they also getting doses of Tom Paine and J.S. Mill?  If they
read Nozick, will they also consider Rawls?  And do they read
(which I assume they will reject in the end) Foucault?  I’d put
money on the fact that they are not.  Even when you’re really
smart, there’s still a difference between indoctrination and
education.  In a program like Heritage’s (and the corresponding
liberal ones mentioned in the article), these students are not being
made into citizens.  Culture warriors, perhaps.  But in
education, I hope we aspire to a higher standard, to Plato’s
exhortation to do the right and love the good, no matter where that
takes us and our beliefs.

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