One of the characteristics of left-wing parochialism on campus is the casting of other outlooks through their popular, and not always accurate, manifestations in public life. For many campus dwellers, the word “conservatism” evokes images of Iraq and Cheney, or people in megachurches waving their hands, or judges in Salem in 1692. That’s what happens when an education system downplays conservative ideas, texts, and figures. Only the most extreme or oppositional versions of it stand out.
Academics should take conservatism more seriously. Here is a list of basic conservative canons as outlined by Russell Kirk in The Conservative Mind. They derive from the lineage Kirk drew in that book, a roster that includes Edmund Burke, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Coleridge, Tocqueville, Hawthorne, Henry Adams, and Irving Babbitt.
1. Belief in a transcendent order or body of natural law.
2. Acceptance of the variety and mystery of human existence.
3. Conviction that civilization requires hierarchy and order.
4. The connection of freedom and private property.
5. A trust in local customs and traditions over the visions of social engineers.
6. A preference for gradual change over revolutionary change.
Clearly, each one violates a reigning dogma or value in the humanities. No. 1 goes against social constructionism. No. 2 goes against the love of theory. No. 3 goes against egalitarianism. No. 4 goes against the reliance on government action. No. 5 goes against the faith in innovation and reform. And No. 6 goes against the cachet different kinds of radicalism possess in the field (“this book is a radical rethinking of . . .”).
So, when people contest the assertion of liberal bias in the humanities curriculum, they shouldn’t ask if conservatives are demanding affirmative action for themselves or Intelligent Design in the classroom. They should ask how often tradition, transcendence, hierarchy, capitalism, and gradualism are hailed as values in the classroom and quarterlies.Posted at 11:43:01 AM on June 19, 2008 | All postings by Mark Bauerlein
Just Passing Through replied in the comments:
With Prof. Bauerlein finally—prodded by my comments, obviously—delivering a little essay instead of just cutting-and-pasting another stat summary, I wasn’t going to get in on this. Leave well enough alone, etc. Besides, I figured the dirty, hippy, half-witted commie pinko bed-wetters “a tired rambler,” “Anti-hypocrisy advocate,” “Roger,” and others would immediately check in to do battle with the smaller roster of righties, e.g., “CU Prof,” “S. Britchky.” So far, not really the fireworks I anticipated.
Therefore, I must, in the interest of a clearer debate, provide a colloquial translation of Prof. Bauerlein’s conservative canon:
1. Belief in a transcendent order or body of natural law. As the bumpersticker says, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”
2. Acceptance of the variety and mystery of human existence. They do all them drugs and shoot each other ‘cause that’s just the way they are. Nothin’ we can do about it.
3. Conviction that civilization requires hierarchy and order. You can’t go around demonstratin’ in the street. Especially when there’s a war on.
4. The connection of freedom and private property. If I want to build it, I’ll build it. It’s my land. And if the county says I can’t, just let ‘em try and stop me.
5. A trust in local customs and traditions over the visions of social engineers. You ain’t from around here, are you? Well, around these parts, people like you just can’t come in here and live like you want. We’ve got our ways.
6. A preference for gradual change over revolutionary change. It’s always been done that way. May not be fair, but that’s only for a few folks. Maybe their grandkids’ll have it a little better, but for now, it’s just too bad for them.
Oh, one little cavil: Even the ardent lefties I know don’t “hail” their tenets in the classroom. Insinuate, maybe. “Hail” is a blurb verb, as in “Critics hail Broadway’s newest…,” etc. It’s crap writing and Prof. Bauerlein teaches English.
Both “Just Pissing Through” (#11) and “a tired rambler” (#3) illustrate beautifully the point that Mark made in his first paragraph. I know of no conservatives who sound like JPT’s “colloquial translations.” Rather, those sound like stereotypical lines from bad movies about brutish and reptilian people from the backwoods who resist the intrusion of more enlightened Yankees from the Ivy League. (“Deliverance,” anyone?)
In the interest of balance, let me suggest the Liberal counterpart to each of the six points from Kirk:
1. Belief in a transcendent order or body of natural law. —-“We Liberals, being the most-evolved form of life, are the final authority on things. Don’t try to tell us how the universe works; we’ll make it work the way that fits our current theories and wishes.”
2. Acceptance of the variety and mystery of human existence. —-We’re all exactly alike—physically, mentally, emotionally. Especially you little people. But we’ll make you all just like Us, only obedient to your betters.
3. Conviction that civilization requires hierarchy and order. —-The only hierarchy is that We Who Know make the rules for you little people. Within that framework, party down!
4. The connection of freedom and private property. —-Conservatives don’t understand the vocabulary. ‘Freedom’ means the right to do what We permit, not what you want to do. Remember that ‘Freedom is Slavery;” We’ll make you happier this way; trust me.
‘Private property’ means you can use it until We want it for something else. In the meantime, We’ll tell you what we think is the best use of the property.
5. A trust in local customs and traditions over the visions of social engineers. —-How quaint. As though you people who live in fly-over country could know how to do things in your own town, your own schools, your little “states.” We in New Haven and Cambridge and Manhattan THINK about things and thus KNOW what’s best for you. All you little people want to do is cling to your guns and your religion. But you WILL conform. We have Ways.
6. A preference for gradual change over revolutionary change. —-There’s no need to make the changes gradually, because we know what the world ought to be like, and the sooner the better. Delays simply run the risk of diluting our vision for your future. Moreover, We will not be secure in our power until the revolution.
The appalling arrogance of these two (and some other liberals among these responses) illustrates why it’s almost impossible to have an intelligent conversation with a liberal. “We (Liberals) THINK about things until we see that liberalism is correct, while you (conservatives) blindly accept what your traditions tell you. It’s perfectly obvious and beyond cavil that logic, tolerance, science, and virtue are the exclusive province of liberalism.” Moreover, the irritating fact that not all conservative think alike becomes the basis for charging Bauerlein and others of inconsistency and misuse of sources.
In “The Idiot,” Dostoyevski has a character say, “I have never known a liberal who would allow anone to have an opinion of his own, without immediately overwhelming him with abuse or something worse.”
He was right.
Joe Erwin added later:
Both “conservatives” and “liberals” have more complicated positions than those for which they are given credit. I think again of the statement once made my my post-doc advisor: “There are only two kinds of people; those who believe there are only two kinds of people, and those who don’t.” This series of comments includes abundant stereotyping of the “left” and “right” and the “liberal” and “conservative” perspectives. How can intelligent people be so small minded as to lump people into such groups? There may something that could be characterized as a “liberal syndrome” and a “conservative syndrome” in which those suffering from these respective maladies each hold a set of dogmatically defended values or beliefs (that in each case include stereotypes about the other).
Isn’t it all far more interesting and complex than this sort of polarized perspective on the world and its peoples? Left, right, up, down, north, south, east, west, and all shades and grades of n-dimensional hyperspace are in play. And within that matrix, one of the most powerful concepts is that at every level of function, variation occurs, and some things work better than others. Processes and mechanisms that do not work at all, that is, fail to function or are fatally flawed, do not survive. Ideas and techologies and systems and organisms that work well some or most of the time, at some level of organization, tend to persist. The classic psychological defense mechanisms, like stereotyping, overgeneralization, tearing down others to elevate ones own position, etc., all are effective enough of the time that they survive in the discourse of people like those who post here. As indicated in comment #48, the level at which most of this discourse has been conducted, with ad hominem attacks and unwarranted stereotyping, is not helpful.