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12/30/2007

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Nick

1)When doing the economic analysis, he moves his focus from the humanities to chemistry and law. Are conservatives qualified to be humanities professors somehow making more outside of academia?
The disciplines that he cites as having the opportunity to earn more outside of academia(at least the hard sciences) tend to be more conservative. Why would conservatives choose to be "in a quasi-socialistic working environment", when they could make more money in the private sector?

2)"conservatives are much more favorable..to the values of honor, personal courage..than liberals". I can't find the words to convey how silly I find this idea.

3) Distinguished right wing intellectuals: 1 nazi ,3 fascist sympathizers, and Hayek(whose vision merely leads to private tyrannies rather than public ones). Is this where you need to be to criticize this country from the right? Maybe he should not have dismissed his original reasoning so quickly.

Dan Ray

I'm always vaguely amused, when this question comes up, at the thought of why other, similar questions don't come up nearly as much. You mention the fact that members of the military skew to the right, but dismiss it with a few lines about hawkish policies and personality politics. Why don't we wonder about CEOs' conservative tendencies? Almost certainly, they could be explained in an even shorter breath: they're voting with their (hefty) pocketbooks.

When we turn to those with a leftward slant, though, easy answers go out the window. You appear to assume that professors do not choose their liberal politics rationally; instead, you first remove them from the equation entirely, placing the "quasi-socialistic" work environment in the active opinion-filtering role. Then, you speculate that it's all a product of underhanded preservation of the in-group through employment discrimination. By the time you got to the herd behavior hypothesis, I had to wonder how these professors ever got their Ph.Ds when they couldn't even form their own political opinions!

I joke, but isn't it possible that liberal politicians simply better fund education, the arts, and social programs, and that this accounts for a large part of the academics' perceived preference for them?

Chris Long

Of course, what people mean when they self-identify as a "liberal" or "conservative" does not have the same meaning now as it did it previous decades. Voting Republican vs Democrat in previous elections cannot be used, as the Republican party is not truly conservative, nor is the Democrat party truly liberal, and the political philosophies of both have become more centrist over time. Additionally, if the actions of current major political figures associated with a particular philosophy are deemed to be significantly negative by a majority, people will tend to shift self-identification as a result. What they personally believe, of course, hasn't significantly changed, only the willingness to be associated with a group currently held in a negative light. What are generally viewed as significant errors in judgment by the Bush administration (e.g Iraq, Katrina, torture policy, the economy) have pushed people away from self-identifying as conservatives.

Max

"I can't find the words to convey how silly I find this idea."

I think you speak out of ignorance, Nick. I have seen many examples supporting Posner's conjecture both in and out of the military. I have seen your empty counter argument before as well.

ChinaCoalWatcher

If a preference for academics has, at least to some extent, an origin in a "risk aversion" avoidance of the private-sector and the related possibility of real professional failures (rare in faculty life), then perhaps it makes sense that such a group of employees would share ideological similarities on the subject of the government's role in protecting the population at large from its own potentially self-destructive decisions.

DavidS

"I'm always vaguely amused, when this question comes up, at the thought of why other, similar questions don't come up nearly as much. "

This question comes up since college is such a special, formative experience for millions of people. And parents implicitly place great trust in the professors their children will encounter. People are right to be curious about those being given such a long (and expensive) leash in ushering the young into adulthood and the "educated" classes.

A discussion about CEOs can occur when comparable data is available on their political views. I think the relationship between left-right / poor-rich is complicated. (Blue states, for instance, tend to be wealthier ones.)

I do think Posner's comment on how conservatives value "honor" and "discipline" more than liberals needs quite a lot of elaboration: these are big, complex words that can be understood in many different ways. As it is, honorable and disciplined lefties are not hard to find at all.

Jake

Judge Posner raises interesting points. Very interesting, in fact, based on the emotional and apparently uninformed replies above.

Reason, a founding tenet of our Republic, is in serious danger. One wonders whether any of the commentators have enough attention span to actually turn off the computer, the TV, the radio, the IPod, and similar distractions, and actually read a book.

Judge Posner has written quite a number of interesting books, you proles. Read one or two before you assault him.

GSS

This is a great discussion that reminds me of the old hedgefox vs fox debate. It makes sense for organizational and civic leaders to be more hedgehog-esque if it is their job to inspire followers and/or provide clarity to those that follow them. If it is someone's job to urge analysis and questioning, on the other hand, it follows (to yours truly, at least) that their thinking would be equally questioning of dominant cultural paradigms. When Dewey wrote about Liberalism and Social Change, I always think of the professor urging students to reshape their thinking on those things already existing in order to re-create these things in better forms for future generations.

I would also mention that liberals rarely self-define as religious (again, according to my own observations), but are simply acquiescing to the traditional definition of religiosity. Why not just identify themselves as zealots of science or evolution as equally a religious undertaking? Paul Davies had an interesting piece about this in the NYT sometime in November (science and religion equally dependent on leaps of faith) and I also was captivated by lines from a book review today on "The Lure of Heresy." Lee Siegel writes, "We have exhausted Romantic individualism, and we have twisted the uniquely individual, modernist escape from the self into 'self-expression.' Expression is everywhere nowadays, but true art has grown indistinct and indefinable. We seem now to be living in a world where everyone has an artistic temperament -- emotive and touchy, cold and self-obsessed -- yet few people have the artistic gift. We are all outsiders, and we are all living in our own truth." If this is the case with regard to religiosity, perhaps it would be worthwhile to actually survey the strange and foreign landscape of the so-called liberals' religiosity in order to establish how professors (or anyone else) want social change to emerge in the future.

Nick

Max, perhaps I should have explained myself better as my comment may have come off as a shock post. As DavidS pointed out these are not terms that either side can claim for themselves. Revolutionary movements, by definition liberal though not always in fact, would not occur if people on the left did not believe in these values. Risking one's life to challenge entrenched authority requires some of those values mentioned.

As Dan said, Judge Posner quickly dismisses military officer's conservative tendencies as owing to a love of honor, discipline, etc. What is overlooked is the perception that the Republican Party will give larger pay raises to the armed forces year over year, while keeping military jobs safe through the expansion of the armed services. As the Democratic party has become more hawkish, service members have begun to switch parties. Further, a four year commitment to military service is something that may tend to screen out liberals by its very nature.

B.T.W., I have read some of Judge Posner's works, I attend law school and he was on the summer reading list, though sorry if my post came off as ignorant. This brings me to another point, though perhaps most of the professors may be self-described liberals, the institution itself is not. It produces young people who will make a lot of money working for the establishment, and who will forget their Human Rights professor.

Andrew

A few additional reasons why educators, as a collective group, are usually left leaning:

1. Since many of their salaries are publicly funded, naturally they would tend to support higher taxes.

2. Many of them are extremely competitve and hierarchical, which makes them resent those in the private sector who earn considerably larger salaries than they do, although the educators are more intelligent and make a greater contribution to society than many of their better-paid private sector counterparts (i.e., the same competitive drive that got them to distinguish themselves academically drives them to distinguish themselves financially--something they can't do on a normal educator's salary).

3. Republican politicians usually try to act like they are dumber than they actually are, while Democratic policians usually try to act smarter than they actually are. (Actually the Republicans have a better political strategy here. Who gets elected as the prom/homecoming king, the valedictorian or the quarterback of the football team?)

4. By courting the extremist, evangelical Christian vote, Republicans alienate intelligent, educated people. For example, currently self ordained "Christian Leader" Mike Huckabee is one of the top Repubublican candidates. He claims he "doesn't know" whether the earth is more than 6,000 years old and has joked about people who thought they were descended from primates.
Also, support for the extreme Evangelical Christians alienates Jewish people who, as Judge Posner correctly oberserved, constitute a disporportionatly large share of educators (i.e., Ann Coulter recently saying that "Jews need to be perfected").

5. Because many Repbublicans have been courting the "ingnorant/rascist/anti-civil rights" demographic in the south, which had been abandoned by Democrats in the civil rights movement in the 1960's--a voting block that is rightfully looked down upon by educated people.

St. Darwin Assissi's cat

Thank you Judge Posner for an interesting blog ... good topic, statistics, references, vocabulary, phrases prompting additional reading. Everyone should read your books -- you are an exquisite writer: "Public Intellectuals" was so stimulating as was "Catastrophe," "Age and Aging" "The Federal Courts" "Affair of State" ... looking forward to economic treatise of the law -- how could it not be outstanding ... it is interesting that your brilliant son writes a lot like you ... he was a very lucky young man to have you as a critic/fan for his early writing.

Jamie

Something very similar exists here in the UK too. Often universities are full of kids with radical left-wing views which IMO are often encouraged by the universities themselves.

These are the same kids who marched through London saying the US was the 'real terrorists' and spitting on the memories of those who were brutally murdered on 9/11.

TBH it really turns my stomach. The only thing I can say is these kids gradually become more conservative as they grow up! Either that or they turn into Ken Livingston!

DPB

Judge Posner:

I hope you will address the second question regarding "consequences" as it is the only one that matters. My feeling is that it will be a lot less interesting because the consequences will be minimal to none.

I believe you have the explanatory factor of selection backward. It is rather that "people who are comfortable in a quasi-socialistic working environment" self-select to work at universities.

A more interesting theory on the relevance of religion is the degree of intellectualism within the religous culture. Jews have a long history and culture of "talmudic" erudition that well with the mission of the modern university. While a gross over-generalization, it is much less so within the Catholic and Evangelical communities, which have long been marked by cant, orthodoxy, and theological purity at the expense of intellectual inquiry and analysis.

I believe it is a diservice to all academics to lump their politics with their teaching. Professors publish their personal views, to the extent relevant, in their academic writings. In my experience, professors rarely bring those personal views into the classroom -- the teaching is fairly straight forward, particularly at the undergraduate level.

For the most part, the professors political leanings are irrelevant. A better question perhaps is one of collegiality within the various departments or universities. To pick a recent example from the US Supremen Court, there has been much "astonishment" that Justice Ginsburg and Justice Scalia are long-time personal friends, even before their respective appointments to the Supreme Court. A (female) liberal German(?)-American Jew and a (male) Italian-American conservative Catholic. Profound legal and political differences bwetween the two to be sure, but tempered with respect and friendship. I'm guessing that such respect and comraderie is much more common in the university setting than one might conclude from the cited study or your blog.

jonm

Two points:

First, I think the author is overly dismissive of the argument that an intelligentsia is naturally liberal, "because a society can be attacked from the Right just as easily as from the Left". Even if this is true, conservatives' relatively greater emphasis on authority, obedience, etc. could plausibly lead to less attacks being made.

Second, in line with the interesting economic arguments, it's worth noting that the more conservative fields seem to be those that provide training for commercial work and, even for academics, offer good opportunities to switch fully to commercial work or to earn income by working part-time.

Chuck

I'm suprised that "liberal" economists even exist to any degree. As a student of George Stiglers, if he were alive today I would pay $1,000 to see him debate Paul Krugman

Bruce G Charlton

I believe that academics are pro-the-state, and will tend to support whatever is the most pro-state of political parties.

This is because academics are mandarins, which are high-culture experts - and it is the state which supports and imposes high culture - which makes high culture 'official'.

(This can be seen clearly in France, where the State supports and subsidizes the French language, film industry, fine food etc. - but it applies to some extent everywhere).

Thus modern academics tend to be left-leaning because the left explicitly supports expansion of the role of the state in supporting culture. But 100 years ago in Germany, academics supported right-wing/ nationalist and conservative positions.

At that time socialism/ communism was seen as an international mass movement of labouring proletarians - hostile to national culture and high culture alike.

This goes back a long way - since the original main function of universities was to produce civil service officials (priests, lawyers, and later public sector teachers). In other words, (especially in Europe - not so much in the US) graduates were usually employed directly by the state. Victorian Oxford saw itself as mostly training elite civil servants, and at that time Oxford was very conservative - probably because liberals were a pro-free trade party.

If in the future liberals became anti-high-culture, and conservatives began to advocate an expansion of official support of high culture then I'm pretty sure that academics would switch their allegiance again - this time from left to right.

At a deeper level, academics are often (absurdly) anti-modernization in their stance - maybe because modernity tends to make many forms of intellectual and cultural expertise obsolete - and to replace deeply-cultured mandarins with narrowly specialist technocrats.

wd40

An interesting precursor to the Gross and Simmons paper is The Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy. In it, academic economists and ordinary Americans were asked about various economic issues. In some cases, there were great differences in their responses. For example, economists were much more in favor of free trade than the average citizen. I doubt that Richard Posner and Gary Becker have tried to explain this discrepancy by suggesting that academic economists are more sheltered from foreign competition in their “quasi-socialist institutions” of higher learning and therefore do not fear free trade. Instead, I suspect that would look for some reason why the average citizen was mistaken. Indeed, Becker has written an article on how pressure groups mislead the ordinary voter. Furthermore, I doubt that Becker and Posner would discuss how academics replicate themselves so that they still believe in comparative advantage. At the same time, I suspect that those economists (perhaps, some Marxists) who said that free trade is bad would argue that the economics profession had some built in bias (due to political discrimination and herd behavior, to use Posner’s words) that has allowed the economics profession to perpetuate wrong ideas over several generations.

Now we have a blog on the liberal skew in higher education. Since both Becker and Posner are conservatives (whatever that means) and perhaps lean more to the Republican Party than to the Democratic Party, they don’t try to explain why the average voter is ignorant of social science issues when compared to the knowledge of the average academic about their specialty (economics, politics or sociology). Instead they try to find some explanation for the bias of academics (using phrases such as herd behavior, quasi-socialist institutions, and the like that I employed in the preceding paragraph).

So isn’t one general statement that we might come up with from all this is that when people agree with us, we do not try to explain why this is so, but when people disagree we search for explanations for their bias (and not ours).

This is not to argue that Becker and Posner are incorrect in what they say. However, I would be more comfortable with their theory if they could explain the persistent disagreements between academic economists and the public using the same model that they employ in explaining the liberal “bias” of academics.

Brett Bellmore

I'm dubious about the reliability of self-reporting in this context; When university populations are well to the left of the general population, people there judging their own political identity relative to the people around them will tend to understate how liberal they are; The same would be true in reverse if universities were more conservative than the general population.

I'd rather see a survey asking positions on a wide variety of issues where conservatives and liberals split. This would be more accurate.

Joyce Krutick Craig

From the moment I began reading this I wondered how Judge Posner would define "liberal" and "conservative." As a baby boomer college and law school educated in the 1960's my definition of "liberal" and "conservative" is rooted in that era's definition. It was a time of intense social and political discord and great achievements in the law with respect to racial equality. Were I to label myself, I would use the "Big L" coined by Leonard Bernstein in an op-ed piece in the NY Times many years ago to describe himself as one who was very liberal, socially, politically, and economically. However, today, many people, particularly those who are in their 30's tend to be liberal socially yet conservative economically. It would therefore be quite difficult to accurately place such individuals in either category. I plan on reading the articles Judge Posner cites. They will likely this question so that the entire article can be put in proper context.

UCD Neuroscientist

Recent research, including the study of David Amodio ("Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism." Nat Neurosci 2007;10:1246-7), has revealed neurobiological differences between liberals and conservatives. Conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments while liberals are more open to new experiences. Clearly, the latter is more consonant with the creativity required for success in the academy.

neilehat

I would expect the largest percentage of professors in the upper echelons of education to fall in the ideological spectrum (radical-liberal-moderate-conservative-reactionary) of being "liberal-moderate". Upper level education has long been known as a "liberal" education, be it from the trivium, quadrivium, or whatever.

But, let's make sure that we use the term "Liberal" in it's denotative sense, not the connotative sense as has been perjorativly developed by the "conservative-reactionary" spectrum of the ideological scale as of late. The ability to make such a fine distinction, is the mark and sign of an "evil" Liberal education.

Just one question, "Is it still a prerequisite to own a Dictionary in the upper levels of Education these days"?

CullenS

"conservatives are much more favorable to the use of military force, and to the values of honor, personal courage, discipline, hardiness, and obedience, which are highly prized by the military, than liberals are."

In fairness to Judge Posner, this observation was not central to his discussion. Nevertheless, it is difficult to read it as anything other than patronizing and offensive. I'm happy to be described as a liberal on most political questions, and simultaneously embrace the values of honor, personal courage, discipline, and hardiness. For me, robust, honest, meaningful liberalism is impossible without those values at its core.

John

Conservatives discriminate. I don't want them in universities teaching. Every religious college kicks out openly gay people just like the military.

For your next post you should talk about how gay people on average are better educated yet make far less than straight people.

Walker

First, let me say, I am not a spam bot, I am a meat pop-sickle. If you get this joke, odds are, you have personally responded to this post, and are a liberal... or a Bruce Willis/Milla Jovovich fan.

I know posts after about #15 really don't get much attention, so I will aim this response to those readers who for some reason want to view every response. Perhaps you are interested in the social-science aspect of this post and one day want to conduct a data analysis similar to the one that Judge Posner cites above.

Disclaimer One: I agree with the statistical assessment that most academics agree more with the Democratic party than the Republican. This is largely because my alma mater, Northwestern, offered students in its creative writing sequence a largely/completely Democratic faculty. I do not recall having a single under-graduate professor who in any way represented his or herself as republican.

Double Disclaimer: I use the terms Democratic and Republican throughout this post, because I find the terms Conservative and Liberal totally inappropriate. Classic liberals-- John Locke and Thomas Jefferson. Liberalism used to mean a belief in freedom of religion, freedom of economy, freedom of personal preference, or at least that was the stated notion. Classic liberals argued that they despised despotic and controlling government and supported a free market. This does not accurately correspond to what liberalism has become to mean. Marx would not have jived with "classic liberals". Nor would Hillary. On the other hand, the traditional definition of conservativism would mean a couple of things-- (1) conserving the environment (to the extent of being risk averse with the environment); and (2) it would mean supporting traditional ideas. Since these have changed so much in the last 100 years, the term loses potency.

It is my opinion that the Democrats are not classically liberal and the Republicans are not classically conservative. However, based on popular nomenclature, I suspect that most of the respondents to the data Judge Posner ("J.P.") cites mean "Democratic or Republican" rather than "Liberal or Conservative." Nonetheless, I recognize the fact that this sort of semantic confusion could greatly impugn or at least muddy the data results J.P. cites.

Triple Disclaimer: I am a huge J.P. fan. I studied under him at UChi Law. I am biased in his favor and in awe at the expansive areas of learning in which he is capable of scholarly debate.

That being said, I find the idea that academic institutions are notably Democratic to be unfortunate.

Let's look at Emotionalism. All humans are obviously emotional to some extent, and instinctively feel the need to choose sides, to clan up, to polarize. This clouds the objective intellectual process.

This is undesirable for professors.

Rs and Ds both pick specific & polarizing issues to pursue. These issues often create personal allegiance to the party, when in fact they should not logically extend allegiance to all issues.

The Republican positions on gay marriage or abortion should not taint people's opinions on taxes or free trade. But they often do.

One of my undergraduate professors, an assistant poetry professor, frequently brought to class GWB quotes. His position was that GWB butchered the English language. (Too true.) But after making his all-too-obvious point about W's awful grammar, the professor, now a tenured poetry Prof. at Maryland, proceeded to offer us his opinions about W's politics.

This prof. looked all of us in the eye and concluded we should and would vote for Al Gore. It was one of the most amazing and distasteful positions I have ever been in. If I disagreed, I felt I would incur the wrath of this professor, who was the sole decider of my grade. Since my grade would be decided by my poetry, a product that could not be reviewed for "correctness", I had to bend to his politic whim.

I thought about asking, "Excuse my, Prof. Weiner, but do you have a PhD in Government we weren't aware of, or are you using your platform as a poetry professor to try to affect your students' political leanings?"

But then I knew such an affront would only have negative consequences for me. In the end it did: I made an A with the previous professor, whom I consider to be uninterested in mixing her class with politics, and a B minus with the next professor after challenging him on political issues.

Let's not even discuss what happened when I named Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged as one of my favorite books from High School in the same class. The Prof. stated that I should be embarrassed for myself.

Wow. This criticism came from a person who had received his PhD in English, not government or politics or economics or law. As a graduate of the University of Chicago's Law School, I am certain that I have more relevant in-class experience now, such as to decide whether I should be embarrassed that I enjoyed Atlas Shrugged when I was 16. I should not. Poetry is about the human condition, and expert use of language. Its review should concern personal political beliefs.

If this sort of emotional and partisan bullying is what results from having an entirely democratic faculty, then I guess I have become a staunch supporter of diversity. It would have been a diverse experience for me to have had an under-grad professor who felt that both sides of the coin needed to be explored and respected.

It was because of this one-sided treatment that I chose the University of Chicago for law school. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't that I wanted to avoid democratic minds-- my classes with Stone, Samaha, Strauss and Sunstein were some of my favorites. But I also knew Richard Epstein was going to be there, and going to call out "current democrat/liberal" propaganda every step of the way.

What I sought was objectivity and balance. I believe I found it at Chicago. I wish more academic institutions were that way.

neilehat

I find it quite interesting that party affiliation has now taken the place of belief structures, i.e. Democrat as Liberal and Republican as Conservative. And all this from a law school graduate to boot. No wonder the country has the problems it does.

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