Jan 21 2010

Why are professors Left?

Category: higher education,leftharmonicminer @ 10:39 am

Here is a post that began as a facebook discussion with my friend Kirsten…  and since I can’t bear to type anything and only use it once, read on.  Warning:  in this discussion, the labels “liberal” and “conservative” must be understood historically.  Modern “conservatives” believe about the same things as 18th- and 19th-century “liberals.”  Modern “liberals” are often somewhere on the spectrum between late 19th-century “progressives” and 19th-century “socialists.”  In the 18th century, “conservatives” were those who wanted to maintain the governing status quo involving royalty, aristocratic privilege, and the like, bearing no resemblance to modern “conservatives.”  So watch your head, or you might bump on on a low hanging ideological pipe.

In a lengthy article that purports to report on sociological research into the indeological predispositions of university faculty and people’s reactions to them, we are reminded that Professor Is a Label That Leans to the Left. (Much more at the link.)

The overwhelmingly liberal tilt of university professors has been explained by everything from outright bias to higher I.Q. scores. Now new research suggests that critics may have been asking the wrong question. Instead of looking at why most professors are liberal, they should ask why so many liberals — and so few conservatives — want to be professors.

A pair of sociologists think they may have an answer: typecasting. Conjure up the classic image of a humanities or social sciences professor, the fields where the imbalance is greatest: tweed jacket, pipe, nerdy, longwinded, secular — and liberal. Even though that may be an outdated stereotype, it influences younger people’s ideas about what they want to be when they grow up.

At least it’s nice that the NYTimes acknowledges that academics are mostly leftists.  Now if only they admitted the same about the mainstream media, and themselves, we’d be in a more honest place.  In any case, the conjecture here only explains (to some extent) why academia remains leftist. It doesn’t explain how it got that way, except with a pretty thin reference to reaction to the New Deal.

As is often the case with attempts at sociological explanation, the central roles of ideas and values are shunted aside in favor of demographics. Ask yourself this: without a Marx or Nietsche in the history of ideas, would the academic establishment have trended left? What if the favorite ideas of the left had not developed in the 19th century? They didn’t HAVE to develop then. They just did.

What if Dewey had not influenced the public educational establishment as he did?  What if progressive politics had not found a home in activist universities? 

Ideas have consequences. The leftist academic establishment, all the while that it derides the notion of “progress” in society, still thinks its ideas are better than the old ones that were replaced… all the while denying that there is a universal standard by which they can be judged “better”…. but nevertheless being quite confident that there really aren’t such things as right and wrong, God and Satan, etc.  Except, of course, in the case of global warming deniers, who clearly are destined for the pit of Hell.

I think the nature of the ideas explains much more than demographic “typing.”  People have always been looking for two things: ways to get power over others, and ways to maximize personal freedom for themselves.  Very, very much of the liberal left is well-described by that.

The case of sociology is especially instructive, given that from the beginning it was a social/political agenda masquerading as an academic discipline.

While some conservative groups have had an anti-education bias since the late 19th/early 20th century, that is itself a REACTION to the trend leftwards in academia that flowed from those ideas I mentioned earlier. This anti-education bias was not always there, and was never a given, until the 19th century ideas produced enough leftists in the academy that some “conservatives” over-reacted.

Some of the more “conservative” people in the 18th century WERE in the academy (“conservative” is in quotes because at the time they were sometimes called liberals). Think Adam Smith, our founding fathers, etc. Note, I did not say the academy was all conservative, even then, but simply that there was lots of representation of “both sides” (really, more than two) in the academy, until this century’s response to 19th-century ideas led to an activist academy, self-consciously so, and that was something fairly new. Woodrow Wilson is just about the perfect example of the academician with an agenda in the early 20th century. Despite his racism, he is much beloved of the Left. They recognize him, correctly, as one of their own, who believed government was the answer to nearly every human problem…  so much so that admiration for Wilson was expressed both by Mussolini and Hitler, especially Wilson’s brand of “war socialism.”

When professors are given guns (and the power of government is the biggest gun of all) they are disinclined to show restraint in using up the ammo. 

29 Responses to “Why are professors Left?”

  1. Kirsten says:

    Glad this triggered something. Did you see my response on Facebook? Here’s a copy and paste:

    While I agree with your assessment of the weaknesses of the sociological argument presented in the article, I think I intuitively read it not as an attempt at an origin story, but as a contributing reason it continues to be so. I won’t rely solely on my own anecdotal evidence for it, but I will say my extensive research about the shifting sands of identity construction from medieval through postmodern western society seems to corroborate the idea that profession choice is now largely tied up–at least subconsciously–with identity. And this is a modern creation.

    You’re absolutely right that ideas have consequences. However, I think the consequences were primarily felt in the mid-twentieth century. I don’t think most “leftists” today would say that the top universities in the 19th and early 20th century were leftist. Here’s another article–perhaps a little more objective?–that speaks about the conservative-run universities during this time as well as about the New Deal effects on higher education: http://media.www.jhunewsletter.com/media/storage/paper932/news/2005/11/18/Opinions/Leftist.Bias.In.Academia.Has.Firm.Historical.Footing-2242696.shtml

    Imho, in politics inside and outside academics there’s been a pattern of viewing everything as a binary–if you’re not *x* you’re *y,* thus creating an ever-expanding divide between the so-called right and so-called left. Your caricature of the “leftist” academic environment seems to do this–it’s nowhere near univocal on all issues. One of the battles I continually fight is the bias against philosophy of religion in mainstream philosophy departments. The New Atheists, God bless them, have tried to make moot the need for such inquiries. There are those of us who *do* believe in an activist-academy and the possibility for a better world here while also maintaining religious faith…. See More

    What’s even better is that I’m finding because of the reaction to these “secular” (problematic term) “leftist” (another problematic term) academics (this is also probably problematic, lol) from a general populace that is concerned with spiritual things, with morality, with justice (and I don’t just mean “leftist code for Democratic agenda”), there is increasing awareness from some of the postmodernists that the ideas they purported in the 60s, 70s, and 80s need to be rethought, reformulated, etc. Postmodernism is less a worldview than a method for thinking through things.

  2. Melody says:

    “People have always been looking for two things: ways to get power over others, and ways to maximize personal freedom for themselves. Very, very much of the liberal left is well-described by that.” – I really like that line.

    Three trends have influenced academia and/or been influenced by academia over the last 50 years:

    1. With the mid-20th century affluence, many more children were able to persue higher education than ever before and were therefore brought under the influence of University Professors ready to fill their “skulls full of mush”.
    2. Evangelical churches stopped requiring their pastors to preach Biblical doctrine, leaving the children raised there unclear as to what to believe.
    3. The advent of television/computers replaced much of family conversation, thus leaving children more easily influenced by the voices of others.

  3. harmonicminer says:

    I don’t know what most “leftists” today KNOW about late 19th- early 20th-century universities. I don’t have the impression most have studied the matter, particularly. What’s clear, I think, is that the intellectual currents of the 19th century that I mentioned above were mediated by way of the universities into public policy in the progressive era, which was obsessed with the notion of “experts” who knew better than the rest of us how society “should” be organized. And “experts,” of course, have Ph.D.s and work in universities, true then as now in the public mind (though so often that expertise is false, as you hint). The New Deal didn’t grow out of whole cloth. It simply realized the ambitions of progressives from decades earlier. The disconnection of outcomes for people from their own actions in their own interest, as a matter of long term public policy (not mere temporary relief), is the essence of this.

    It does not blunt this point to observe that at the turn of the 20th century the Northeast (and its ivy leagues) was mostly Republican, because at that time the Republican party was dominated by progressives, a la Teddy Roosevelt and Taft. The conflation of “Republican” with “conservative” ignores the fact that many big business leaders of the time WERE progressives themselves. Certainly, whatever passed for “conservative” then had little to do with what is considered “conservative” now. What makes more sense is to situate people on the “statist” spectrum, i.e., how much should government attempt to solve social problems and personal problems for people, problems that formerly government had never considered its proper province? Generally, statists are leftists, of whatever stripe of progressivism, national socialism, international socialism, or whatever. Professors tend to be statists, and have for at least a century. Again, its a broad brush, and just a statement of tendency. That’s partly because professors have fantasies of being called to Washington to share their, uh, expertise and, uh, save the nation. Especially, the modern professoriate depends so much on the state for its economic existence that anything else would be surprising.

    I agree that the binary representation of political perspectives is not completely accurate. But: my observation is that people who deny being either “left” or “right” are far more likely to VOTE left than right. They deny the label, but do the same deed, more often than not. In this sense, the final voting decision of such people is a sort of forced psychological test, that deliberately gives only two choices, and forces a choice to be made. Personality inventories do this all the time, knowing that the final choice DOES reveal something, whether or not the person making it was comfortable doing so.

    People don’t have the choice to vote for Obama on health care, and for McCain on foreign policy.

    So, while I agree that many people are not comfortable in a “binary worldview,” they do have to live in one, and their choices reveal their true values, on balance, and what they value more than what, regardless of how much they protest that they are “independent.” Along that line, people who “vote their conscience” by voting for a candidate who has no hope of success are really simply refusing to take the personality inventory I mentioned. They in essence have made NO choice.

    I will be convinced that academics are “rethinking postmodernism” and its implications when about half of university professors begin to vote Republican. Shortly after that, I’ll be staying up late some Christmas to see if Santa Claus really does come down the chimney.

  4. harmonicminer says:

    Kirsten, part of the above is in response to the article you linked in your comment, which I had not fully read at the time. But now that I have, I think it reveals the educational status of its author, which is shown at the bottom.

    VERY revealing quotes, revealing either ignorance or the very leftist prejudice it purports to discuss “objectively”:

    It’s easy to forget that, back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, top universities were largely the property of America’s business elites, a group that would not be thought liberal by almost any standard. In fact, the nation’s rapid founding of new colleges took place in an age when Republicans still carried New England.

    I discussed this in the comment above.

    Not only that, many of the most exciting intellectual frontiers — Modernist architecture, welfare state economics and international conflict resolution — were rife with leftist and idealist (if not socialist) overtones.

    Yeesh… THESE are the “most exciting intellectual frontiers”?

    Even though faculties refuse to force consensus, rigorous alternatives cannot be developed when prevailing academic assumptions are not questioned.

    That’s because faculties DO force consensus, though not usually formally.

    Since Nixon cast George McGovern and his student support as a fringe-culture absurdity, the GOP has been seeking new ways to make Brown- or Berkeley-style sympathies radioactive.

    It was the ELECTORATE that demonstrated that McGovern was an example of “fringe-culture absurdity.” This might have been a passable assertion before the election… surely not after.

    Take a moment to think back on George W. Bush’s flagrantly deliberate downplaying of his Yale roots, or the political maneuverings behind the whole intelligent design movement, which pits university intellectuals and scientists against crowd opinion.

    No comment required.

    As far as liberals are concerned, that will mean eviscerating the assumptions of left-wing doctrines and confronting conservatism not as the corrupt electoral movement it has become, but as an intense and unified school of governmental philosophy.

    “Corrupt electoral movement”? Give me a break.

    But for this to work, conservatives will have to stop looking for escape hatches — like think tanks and pet colleges — and bury the anti-academia bias that currently defines the right side of American politics. I’m not sure about you, but I’m getting quite sick of a national political debate that pits the stereotype of a utopian, liberals-only network of universities against the policy failures of a debased version of conservatism.

    This is… well…. sophomoric. Does this kid think he knows what “real” conservatism is, so that he can judge the current version “debased.” And how is a “utopian, liberals-only network of universities” a “stereotype” when it is simply the reality, maybe 90% of the time.

    I invite this lefty professor in training to attempt a debate with ANY of the members of the conservative think-tanks that he knocks. Anti-academic my foot.

    Kirsten, I am happy you’re trying to “fight the good fight” in the secular academic world. You have a LONG row to hoe.

  5. Kirsten says:

    I can’t respond to everything right now for sake of time, but two things shouldn’t take too long:

    1.) Your last point, which is an expression of doubt that “change” is possible in academics, is something most people wouldn’t see if they’re not already interested in work still being produced. The theories most “leftist” academics became famous for are typically the only ones read by a vast majority of individuals, academic or not. I was encouraged last month when I presented at a conference with Judith Butler in Claremont. I’m sure she embodies much of what you disdain about academia, particularly postmodernism, and I’ve certainly met enough academics who fit the bill as far as that is concerned. But she spoke about how she’s had to rethink some of the theories that got her famous to begin with (obviously, these are mostly gender theories) and the last few books she’s published and the one she’s currently working on are departures in some respect from her earlier work–they’re primarily on ethics. Perhaps “departure” isn’t the right word; as I mentioned before, postmodernism is a method–a way of questioning–more than a set of beliefs. Thus, ‘postmodernisms.’ (I find it to be similar in important respects to the earliest patristic methods, but that’s for another post.) Anyway, she was humble, willing to admit she doesn’t have it all figured out, and an eager student (even of the work of those of us who are ’emerging’ scholars). Again, I realize this is anecdotal, but because she’s arguably one of the most notorious of the poststructuralists, I thought it relevant. But I disagree that the evidence for “rethinking postmodernism” must necessarily be professors voting Republican. Which leads me to the next point….

    2.) There are those of us who believe that a binary world is not a necessity–particularly in American politics–and make it part of our life’s work to change that. Reinscribing the binary choice–which, let’s be honest, no one’s really happy with anyway–isn’t going to help anything. Of *course* the binary forces you to choose–often between bad or worse–and it does, indeed, reveal a prioritizing of values. In my admittedly limited experience, I think you’re one of the few who recognize that the world doesn’t fit neatly into just two categories. Thus, I think refusing to even attempt to change the binary system we currently have exacerbates the problem (since most people seem to buy into the binary as perfectly reflective of reality). The politicians benefit from our silent acceptance of the rhetoric of “it’s either us or them.” It creates and/or fosters extremism on both sides of the aisle which only attacka a straw man caricature of the “other” side. People who “vote their conscience” are voting out of frustration, and I think the potential is there for a movement toward broadening the spectrum.

  6. Bill says:

    In my opinion, the left wants to continue to install more social programs for the citizens (and some cases non-citizens). In order to do this, they continue to find more ways to collect money from citizens and create programs.

    Those people that benefit more from these programs than pay into them have a natural bent to the “left.” This includes professors whose universities are funded by this system.

    Those that pay into them more than benefit from them tend to be “right”

    There are obviously exceptions – but this particular topic is about generalities.

  7. harmonicminer says:

    Kirsten, again, I’m not against trying to change the political system so that there ARE more than two viable parties. But it is not “reinscribing” to observe that reality NOW. It would be reinscribing, perhaps, if there was any hope of anything else on the horizon, and we tried to force that change back to a two party system. But that just isn’t the case. There are hardly ANY national candidates (and I include in that reps and senators) who are not repub or dem. Just a tiny handful, and they are there for local reasons in their districts.

    Have you read a bit about WHY American democratic republicanism gravitated nearly always to two main parties, in contrast to parliamentary systems that often have multiple parties in various coalitions? Our founders didn’t really want it to be so, being themselves frustrated with the Whig/Tory issues in Britain at the time… but the system they devised, which requires presidents AND congress to get anything done, almost requires two main groups, a fact which history has made clear over and over.

    I would submit, however, that Dems and Repubs are now much farther apart than they were 100 years ago, and that difference has to do with the ideology of Marx in combat with the ideology of Adam Smith. If they get even FARTHER apart, and each begins to resemble its extremes more than the middle, there might be room for a new party in the “middle.” But electoral politics tends to discipline those who drift too far from the center, rather suddenly… as the Dems just found out. So “political Darwinism” militates against the development of a sufficiently empty “ecological niche” in the political center that would allow new lifeforms to move in.

  8. Kirsten says:

    Lol, I guess where you’re seeing the glass half empty, I’m seeing it half full. Er, you’re seeing barely anything in the cup and I’m seeing that it’s not completely empty…? Anyway, the fact that there *are* independents is a good sign to me. The fact that Ron Paul had as large a following as he did–and I think he really appealed to the twentysomethings–says something about the possibility of change, glacial as it may be.

    Yes, I’m aware (marginally) of how the system became what it is. Perhaps what I should have said to make my point more clearly was that continuing to speak in rhetoric that posits the binary as perfectly reflective of the reality of the voting populace reinscribes the idea that you can only be this or that. Obviously, I understand your point about the reality of the system now. But I do believe–optimist-activist that I am–that if more people understood that not everyone fits so neatly into the pre-fashioned categories, there might be more willingness and or impetus to do something about it.

  9. harmonicminer says:

    You might read about the parliamentary system in contrast to ours… it really illustrates why ours works as it does. Coalition based systems, where the president or prime minister is chosen by a coalition of winning legislators, don’t automatically cause smaller parties to be totally marginalized. Instead, they are NEEDED, often, to build a majority and select a prime minister, so they have clout, sometimes out of proportion to size.

    On the other hand, our system, where a president is elected directly (more or less, through intermediary electors) by the people, tends to provide no reward for small parties to bother. So instead of participating directly in choosing a prime minister/president, these small parties tend to act as “spoilers”, and in so doing they often cause the defeat of the candidate they are MORE alike, paradoxically making it easier for the candidate they object to even more to be elected. For example, Perot’s presence in the campaign of 1992 probably caused Clinton’s election. He surely bled off more Bush voters than Clinton voters. Yet he probably would have preferred the way Bush would have governed than the way Clinton did, or tried to.

    The Clinton admin also provided an object lesson in why third parties can’t find an ecological niche. When one of the two majors is too severely threatened, it immediately moves to the center, starving third parties of reasons to exist, other than the really fringe third parties that are so far on the margins that they have no hope, and no real reason for life.

    There is ONE sense in which we have coalitions, and that is that our parties are made up of subgroups. On this point, there are three main groups of Repubs, and somewhat more groups of Dems, I think.

    I think no third party president is likely to be elected until we move to a Parliamentary system… which is probably never. We may see occasional third party reps, but almost no senators, either.

  10. Kirsten says:

    Perhaps what I find so interesting about this discussion is that I’m less concerned that we may never see a viable third-party candidate and more interested in how the parties adapt to the frustration of the voting public. Perot probably did affect the outcome of the ’92 election, for better or worse depending on your p.o.v. Reps would’ve had a fighting chance in this last election had the Rep party not stepped so far away from its ideals of small government with the Bush administration. You highlight exactly the problem that I pointed earlier: there are a lot of people dissatisfied, and they want change (hello, Massachusetts election this week). If the parties can adequately respond to not only changing times but a changing populace, we don’t need to elect third party candidates. In the students I teach who are just coming of voting age, most don’t have party affiliations–they have major criticisms of both. They were pretty evenly split between candidates last fall. I *do* think there should be a major re-organizing of both parties–I really don’t see younger generations carrying the same torches as their respective predecessors.

    I’ll read more about parliamentary systems when I’ve read my way through the history of western philosophy for my exams in March.

    By the way, I thought twice about including that last article because of the age and limited experience of the student, but mainly included it because he marginally extended argument re: the New Deal’s effect on the political persuasion of professors. Here’s another article–not written by a college student–you might find interesting, back on topic: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/03/arts/03camp.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

  11. harmonicminer says:

    Hi Kirsten, I would be interested in your assessment of how much you think your undergraduates KNOW about the parties, about history, about how the parties have actually governed when they had power in the last century, about economics, etc.

    I constantly here discussion about the different attitudes of today’s younger set… what I rarely hear is honest assessment about how much they know about history.

    Test question:

    Ask them who Stalin was. When did he live? What did he do? How does he compare to Hitler? Then ask the same questions about Mao.

    Ask them if they can define socialism, capitalism, free markets, central planning, name societies that have practiced each in some form, and assess the success of these approaches in each case.

    My perception: students can take 2-3 years of social studies in H.S., a required history/social studies course in college, and be almost totally ignorant of history, economics, politics.

    Sure, they have opinions, but those opinions are formed by late night TV, Colbert, Stuart and MTV. But it is simply impossible to form rational opinions about current issues without predicates in history.

    Most amazing, to me: most of them don’t have a clue about how much they are going to pay and pay and pay for their support of candidates who seem caring and concerned about public welfare now.

    I plan to say I told you so from the golf course in about 15 years to todays undergrads.

  12. innermore says:

    What you’re discussing here is so far beyond the average young illiterate masses, it’s tragic. So, since we’re trying to figure out the mush-mind of a student. Let’s try it from a raw, instinctive perspective:

    Physiologically, two-party politics fires many American cultural neurons. Left and Right equals: throw and catch, clown and straight man, teenager and adult, etc. That said, professors are leftists simply because they are daily (obsessively?) associating themselves with a bunch of young ambitious adolescents. It’s no wonder so many tend to gravitate towards the left/clown/child side of the cultural political coin. It has become unpopular for academics to even recognize, let alone assert any sort of natural maturity into the situation. No one wants to be seen repelling this cultural magnet by taking on the role of parent/adult/straight man. I think the so-called Baby Boomer Menopause Syndrome has something to do with this, too.

    Multiple party politics does not match our 30-second culture very well either. We only crave real winners, so we have a compulsive logic problem with the candidate that captures 21%, 26%, or 34% of the vote and wins. I suppose we could try having a run-off between the top two candidates that emerge from a general, multi-party election. Market it sorta like the NFL Playoffs? Naaa, too complicated.

    The new player in this game is of course, our evolving Vaudeville/NewsMedia. The newsroom had a few megaphones blaring in it back in the day. But now it’s stuffed like a phone booth. So as the crowd in the room expands (explodes), so must its political definition of “mainstream”. I hear the Supreme Court just packed in a whole new crowd, by the way. I hope we can all still breathe.

  13. Kirsten says:

    Phil, my students ranged in knowledge of history. I have some that were really informed about it and would be able to answer all those questions. I also have others who were mimicking the opinions of parents, professors, religious leaders, etc., whom they respected and wouldn’t know Mao from Lady Gaga. But there is no clear division among party lines there–like, the informed ones were more conservative or whatever. I totally agree that the education system–especially here in CA–is so vastly screwed up that kids graduate without really understanding history. However, I’ve met my fair share of adults–ranging from my age to my grandparents’ age–that don’t have a clear understanding of the things you’ve mentioned or how they might relate to politics at hand and just vote the way their pastor, rabbi, imam, or unfounded fear tells them to. Or–if they do remember learning about those things, they were taught in a way that is entirely one-sided. I think propaganda shouldn’t masquerade as ‘history’–whether we’re talking about the way it’s taught now or some of the ways I know it was taught when my parents and grandparents were in school. Different content, same tactic.

    Innermore, though I do agree that the national attention span does not have the patience for multiple party politics,
    I think you might be able to tell from my conversation above re: binaries that I find your overly reductionistic approach to two-party politics and the psychological/neurological explanations for it completely problematic. I do find some truth in your assessment that professors may be influenced by being surrounded with youth, but I don’t think it makes them clownish, immature, childish, female-womanish, effeminate, or homosexual. And I certainly don’t think all of those terms should be considered pejorative. To be mature I need to take on the role of ‘man’? Please.

  14. innermore says:

    Kirsten, I’m sorry for showing my age. By straight man I meant: i.e. Abbott and Costello; Abbott was the straight man, Costello was the clown. Today I guess Sponge Bob is the straight man and Patrick is the clown. Straight man is an old skool term for “serious person”. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation. All good comedy teams have this formula. What makes them funny is like all humor; there’s an element of sad reality in it that is happily taught. This ironic, paradoxical interplay can be seen in many many social settings, including 2-party politics.

    Politically speaking, every action has its reaction. In time, to cumulatively balance out the sociopolitical paradoxes, authority figures are joked about, tyrants are rebelled against, smart people are stumped, and pride is humbled. The Left must not ever really agree with The Right. Historically, the roles of The Left and The Right change, that’s all. Although so-called core principles don’t change much, sometimes the Right plays the role of the hip authority questioners, and sometimes the Left does.

    What led you to believe that I considered any of those terms I mentioned to be pejorative? In your comment, surely you were not expressing contempt towards acting like a “man”. I certainly don’t think that you were.

  15. harmonicminer says:

    Kirstin, I think I can be certain that Innermore was not speaking pejoratively of any of those categories… and his use of the term “straight man” is indeed from comedy. A generational thing, I suppose. Innermore is about 20 years older than you.

    I am aware of several young people who DO know some of the facts of history that I mentioned, and yet their opinions about things are curiously unshaped by them. That is, they might “pass a test” in a class, and yet they seem to think the political/economic understandings they get form Stuart/Colbert/Letterman are more important… oh, not consciously, they didn’t just come out and say, “I’ll ignore the facts and go with the comedians.” But they seem curiously untroubled about trying, again, policies that have never worked, anywhere, for a heterogeneous society of any size, and have produced only misery when they’ve been tried. They are influenced more by pose and good intention than by the history that they purportedly know.

    For example, we already know what happens when any commodity or service is run or provided by the government. Inevitably, shortages and rationing result (sometimes following periods of oddly greater than necessary availability). It has never been otherwise, anywhere, for any significant length of time, insofar as I am aware.

    But I have heard students who KNOW this in their heads be fooled by their hearts into thinking we have to do SOMETHING to (fill in the blank here for the cause du jour).

  16. Melody says:

    Is it just me, or does it seem that the conversation has veered away from the original question of why most professors lean to the Left? This statement from the the link in the original post (click on the red capital letters) sheds an important light on the question:

    “The mismatch between schooling and salary complements a theory that the Harvard professor Louis Menand raises in his new book “The Marketplace of Ideas.” He argues that the way higher education was structured by progressive reformers in the late 19th century is partly responsible for the political uniformity of today. In the view of the early reformers, THE ONLY WAY TO ENSURE THAT QUALITY (as defined by progressives), RATHER THAN PROFIT, WOULD BE REWARDED WAS TO PROTECT THE PROFESSION FROM OUTSIDE COMPETITION.” (emphasis is mine)

    Kirsten, as I have been reading your comments, I find it interesting that you might appear to struggle with absolutes. My experience has been that many folks are afraid of them as if the absolute knowledge of ‘something’ renders that ‘something’ automatically wrong (global warming dangers being a notable exception). You speak of “…an ever-expanding divide between the so-called right and so-called left.” as necessarily a bad thing. I agree with you that most ‘leftists’ today would not identify with ‘leftists’ of the century past. But, Conservative values have not changed in thousands of years. Conservative values in politics used to exist equally in both major parties in this country. What changed? Conservatism? No, liberalism (which in a ‘reductivist’ view holds man’s wisdom higher than the Biblical God’s) is, and always has been, tugging at Godly values. Let me give a “for instance” if I may. The Bible says, “If a man shall not work, neither let him eat.” (2Thess. 3:10) This was considered common wisdom for the majority of this country’s history. Today, one would be chided for making such a statement, even on many Christian College campuses. And today’s Republican Party has moved considerably to the left of the Democrat Party of two-three generations ago. I submit that there is no such thing as this fuzzy middle ground between the two parties. What continually occurs is that the liberals are pulling ever left-ward toward an abyss and conservatives are always trying to avoid the edge of that abyss. Conservatives folly has been that many of their own have found the tugging of the liberal rope very uncomfortable and in an effort to ease up on the tug, they have been willing to compromise their values and move them leftward, thus creating a new set of lines. In no time, the tug begins anew and the same scenario plays out again. Each time, the move is ever left-ward and those who were the conservative compromisers now have disdain for the unflinching conservatives while the leftist voices are emboldened to vilify the true conservatives even more.

  17. Kirsten says:

    First, let me apologize to Innermore for misreading his post–“straight man” in the comedy sense is not a term I’ve heard in a while, but I am familiar with it. (I love Abbott and Costello.) No, I wasn’t bristling toward the concept of “men” (I love men, lol) but at the thought that I needed to be one or act like one in order to be mature. (Insert side comment here about the ways in which gender-specific language inadvertently–and sometimes purposefully-communicates certain ideas.) That’s what I get for hastily reading and hastily posting. But I still think it’s problematic to assign a blanket label to such a diverse group of people–it’s a little insulting to say that the only reason leftists are leftist is because they’re unwilling to be serious, or mature, or whatever. I will wholeheartedly agree that it’s currently “uncool” to be conservative/rightist/etc., and people like Stewart/Colbert/Letterman certainly contribute to the mis-characterization of conservatism as self-serving, blind, stuffy, high-strung, and, well, party poopers. (I’ve known my fair share of leftists who are such.) It’s sad because all it does is fuel that ever-growing divide I mentioned and shut down any chance for a real dialogue. I think some leftists are leftist because they’re convinced–the way you seem convinced–that the ideals they’re fighting for are right. That *good* can come from them, that the world can be a better place, blah, blah, blah. Whether you agree with their principles or not, don’t write them off as clownish and immature. Idealist, sure. We can argue about whether that’s good or bad.

    Phil, I know what you’re talking about. Honestly, though, sometimes I don’t think it’s so much a disconnect between their knowledge of history and their political persuasions as it is perhaps hope–that because there is a need to change some things (a topic I’ll pick up in a minute), it might play out differently. (Yes, I know, insert definition of insanity here.) I don’t think it’s quite fair to insinuate that some of the leftist ideas that have been bandied about recently are on par with the communism of Castro or Mao or Stalin. Obviously, there are extremists, but I don’t classify most of our current elected officials ‘extremists.’ I would argue there are more extremists in the academy than in the government.

    Melody, you rightly read that I’m uncomfortable with absolutes; that is something I get from my study of history, Christian history included. It’s not that I don’t believe they exist. I just really doubt most people–myself included–when they claim to know what they all are. This doesn’t mean that I don’t live as though there are absolutes–anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Everyone adheres to a moral code whether they know it or not. (See, that was an absolute statement.) I tend to be more sympathetic to people who have the ability to be adamant both in their convictions and in their recognition they may be wrong. I don’t see that as problematically paradoxical. In fact, that’s how I read most of the early patristic theologians. In working out the doctrines we now call ‘orthodox’, many of them repeatedly affirmed that though they were utterly convinced their ideas were correct–because they had eternal significance–they recognized that theology is the working out of the mysteries of God by humans–and thus also utterly fallible. For instance, Gregory Nazianzen, in speaking about trinitarian doctrine, stated the following: “What then is Procession? Do you tell me what is the Unbegottenness of the Father, and I will explain to you the physiology of the Generation of the Son and the Procession of the Spirit, and we shall both of us be frenzy-stricken for prying into the mystery of God.” Did that stop him from writing a treatise outlining scriptural support for a trinitarian doctrine never explicitly mentioned in the canon? Not at all.

    The ever-expanding divide between left and right is bad if you have any hopes of dialogue. I don’t think compromise is a bad word. American Christians don’t want to admit it, but we don’t live in a Christian nation. The Founders didn’t want it to be a nation that dictated a particular religion, though I know they did want to support certain values that are tied to religious ones. But they certainly didn’t get everything right there, either. (The treatment of the Native Americans is case in point.) Being able to “reach across the aisle” is definitely important unless you want to move toward a fascist system, which I’m pretty sure you don’t, from what I can tell.

    I disagree that conservative values haven’t changed. It depends on what values you’re thinking of and how you define “conservative,” I guess, and even then, it’s debatable. The obvious ones are slavery, racial and gender discrimination, religious freedom, and class/caste/feudal systems. Those all changed with varying degrees of “revolution,” a concept with which a strict “conservatist” wouldn’t agree. Modern conservatism, which takes many forms, is generally opposed to change this way. (The terms of this discussion are obviously problematic, something I pointed out in my first post.) Perhaps what you’re referring to politically is classical liberalism, which may have influences from ancient Greece, but certainly does not hold the same values as that society. Our modern notions of what “public” and “private” are had no meaning for ancient societies–not the way it’s meant today. With the rise of the modern era came the modern self, and with the interiorization of our understanding of our”selves” came the notion of private (check the OED’s date chart for the word “private.”)

    Perhaps by “conservative values” you were really talking about Christian values. I have a couple things to say about that. First, the history of Christianity doesn’t trace back to anything singular except the Person of Jesus Christ. Even within the first church there were differences of opinion and practice–this much we can learn from Acts and Paul’s epistles, among other texts. I already pointed to the development of Christian orthodoxy. It wasn’t that the Church started as something singular–all believing the same things–and then false doctrine seeped in. The Church started as multiplicitous, and it took a couple hundred years to come up with something like the Nicene Creed. Even the Reformation wasn’t monolithic; Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Westphal, Hess, Andreae, Beza–and all their respective followers–couldn’t ever form a Reformist coalition of sorts because the only thing they could agree on concerning the meaning of “This is my body: take, eat…This is my blood: take, drink” is that the Catholics were wrong. Second, the history of Christian values in America hasn’t been singular, either. See above discussion re: slavery, racism, sexism, etc. There used to be generally accepted scriptural support for those.

    There is no Golden Past; no one had it exactly right. But I’m not saying throw the baby out with the bath water, either. I don’t agree that most/all leftists would disagree with the sentiments of 2 Thess. 3:10 (did you know that Lenin invoked this very verse as a sort of motto for the Soviet Union?). However, I do know they would argue that there are existent institutional factors that inhibit the equal opportunity of all to get said jobs. And that on a global scale, although some of the economic ideals of classical liberalism should work in the Global South, they’ve only kept people in extreme poverty. (Yes, I recognize obvious political factors at work here, too–corrupt governments won’t implement things properly. But the failure of SAPs can’t be completely attributed to things like that, imho.) What I think I said in an earlier post is that I think as much as leftists and rightists disagree on how to solve society’s existent problems (and sometimes that there are problems at all), the rhetoric that constructs a straw man opposition is not conducive to getting anything done for the better. And much of the talk surrounding ideas about a “golden past” reverberate with this kind of rhetoric.

    I think there’s only middle ground, actually. At which issue do you draw a line between leftist-rightist? At which issue do you delineate between rightist and rightist-center? I think the general agreement between members of our current two-party system is both a prioritization of values and the best means to accomplish it–but it’s nearly impossible to find someone or some group with which you completely agree. Sadly, I think a lot of people of my generation and younger are more affiliated with one party or another more because they disagree with the way the other party does it, not because they agree with the party with which they’ve affiliated. Which might be the at least part of the point Phil and Innermore are trying to make….

  18. amuzikman says:


    In your last post one paragraph in particular stuck out to me. It is to this I’d like to respond. I did read the entire thread and I hope you’ll find my response is in context of the entire discussion.

    The ever-expanding divide between left and right is bad if you have any hopes of dialogue.

    I don’t think one has to do with the other. Either I am fundamentally willing to dialogue with those whom I disagree or I am not. It isn’t dependent upon what position I have staked out. And I think this speaks to Harmonicminers original topic. Though I will admit my opinion here is more anecdotal than research-based, I find “lefists,” (problematic classification acknowledged) both in the academy as well as in politics seem more inclined to try to silence opposition whereas those who tilt more to the “right” are much more willing to engage in persuasion as a response to an “opposing” opinion.

    I don’t think compromise is a bad word.

    Neither do I, but I also do not think it should always be a goal, abortion being the perfect case in point.

    American Christians don’t want to admit it, but we don’t live in a Christian nation. The Founders didn’t want it to be a nation that dictated a particular religion, though I know they did want to support certain values that are tied to religious ones.

    That statement probably should be clarified. If you mean that this nation is much more pluralistic now than it was at it’s birth I agree. But I don’t think the founding documents basis in Christian values can be denied. What has changed over time is the willingness of the “left” to embrace the “living document” notion that the meaning of the Constitution can change over time, as opposed to the “right” who tend toward a more strict constructionist interpretation. This can certainly be seen in the academy as well, notably in Christian Universities and theologian/scholars who seem all to willing to throw out very long histories of faith tradition and biblical understanding with respect to the subjects of marriage and homosexuality.

    But they certainly didn’t get everything right there, either. (The treatment of the Native Americans is case in point.)

    Yes but as with other issues this was not something that occurred because of some fatal flaw in the Christian values infused into the founding documents.

    Being able to “reach across the aisle” is definitely important unless you want to move toward a fascist system, which I’m pretty sure you don’t, from what I can tell.

    I think this is a fallacy, especially in modern politics (and it is a political phrase). I don’t think it is a position that many people with true convictions want to embrace. Part of the recent rejection of John McCain as presidential candidate was his too-eager willingness to “reach across the aisle” and compromise, rather than to hold to a set of values and to persuade the American public that those values were the better choice. This is at least part of why Ronald Reagan is so respected by those on the right today. Whether you agree with his positions or not, he staked his position, and he managed to persuade a lot of people to join him.

    (An aside: can you show me even one example of the political left reaching across the aisle in the last 12 months?)

    Certainly compromise is a constant in trying to accomplish anything when there are two or more people involved. But successful compromise takes place on the micro level rather than macro. We can discuss whether to take a car, boat, train or bus, but the case must be convincingly made about the destination. When it come to core values, holding to a position and seeking to persuade, rather than “reaching across the aisle” is preferable in my opinion and has nothing whatsoever to do with moving toward fascism.

  19. Melody says:

    “…the history of Christian values in America hasn’t been singular, either. See above discussion re: slavery, racism, sexism, etc. There used to be generally accepted scriptural support for those.” — Really? So since a few have taken scripture out of context and used it to support their own ends that covers everyone? I always thought that the REPUBLICAN PARTY was birthed by those Christians who opposed slavery. Silly me. I also stupidly thought that the role of women as defined in the New Testament was the basis for the incredible elevation of women in western culture – the only culture to see women as having the same value as men. In fact, the first historical evidence of this thought – to the best of my knowledge which is admittedly limited – comes from the Bible. We must not read the same history books. As to racism, the New Testament is the only ancient historical document to suggest that “all men” (generic term) are created equal in God’s eyes.

    Kirsten, as much as you seem to have some conservative leanings, your thought process (which you call postmodern and I would call postChristian) appears to me to have been shaped by liberalism. You shy away from specific definition of any terms and then make a blanket statement like the one I quote at the beginning here. If I may give another example of the left/right divide: I’m standing on the right corner of Hollywood and Vine in downtown Los Angeles with you. You walk to the next corner and demand I follow you. I say no. You demand again and again and finally we agree to meet in the middle of the block. Then you brag that you are the one who compromised. Then we start the process all over again. I always follow you and you always claim that you were the one who compromised. It rarely goes the other way, and even if it does, we still ultimately end up at the beach. I’m not trying to be catty or unyielding here but rather to help you expand your thought processes beyond the ‘academia think style’ you are used to. Sometimes simple common sense really does make sense. I have to think in a binary fashion to get Junior High kids to sing (chuckle).

    -And I’ve never understood why Republicans don’t get credit for ending slavery-.

  20. harmonicminer says:

    Kirsten, you said, “I don’t think it’s quite fair to insinuate that some of the leftist ideas that have been bandied about recently are on par with the communism of Castro or Mao or Stalin.” Hmm… when they are essentially the SAME ideas, I’m not sure why not. What Jonah Goldberg calls “Smiley Face Fascism,” i.e., statism/socialism with less violence, is still not the definition of a society where I want to live. It may not be “1984” but it is closer to “Brave New World.”

    I try to avoid using the terms “liberal” and “conservative” without lots of clarification, precisely because they do not translate well across generations and cultures. The “left/right” spectrum is a little better than this, though far from perfect. My preferred spectrum is “statist/socialist” vs “capitalist/freedom.” I think there is a reasonable, though imperfect, correlation between left/right and these two things, respectively.

    The fundamental divide is well described by Thomas Sowell in his book, “A Conflict of Visions.”

    The left seems to believe that society is perfectible, and its definition of perfection seems to involve disconnecting inputs from outputs for individuals, that is, arranging for individuals to have a certain quality of life more or less regardless of what choices they and their immediate forebearers have made. In particular, the left believes in using the power of government, including the threat of violence, or the actual use of it, to bring this outcome about.

    The right seems to believe that neither humans nor societies are perfectible, and so the best we can do is to arrange society to avoid the worst excesses of power and protect the rights of individuals to work for themselves and their descendants. The power of government will be used to enforce contracts, catch and prosecute criminals, protect civil rights and the like, but not to force individuals to work specifically for the benefit of others.

    Kirsten, I think I believe people are, and have been, more alike in various societies than you do. In particular, I am unwilling to assume that the presence or absence of a word in a language allows me to say what people did or did not think or feel in some society.

    English has no word for “schadenfreude” of which I’m aware. That doesn’t mean that English speaking people haven’t enjoyed the misfortunes of others.

    Along this line, I think everyone has always wanted freedom and security, as much as they can have of each. No one has ever wanted to be a slave, if they had another option where they could get along well. What we know, now, is that freedom in a context of law and civil protections is the best guarantor of security, if it’s given enough time to work its magic on society and the economy.

    Sure, “state capitalism” or “crony capitalism” hasn’t worked well in the Global South. Neither has socialism, though. But when something closer to “free market capitalism in a framework of laws to protect commerce and enforce contracts” is tried in a relatively free society for two or three generations, miracles happen.

    I don’t believe in a “golden past.” I do believe in learning lessons taught by the past. What amazes me is how people who are fond of saying, “Everyone isn’t alike, and you have to adjust expectations according to cultural norms,” are then likely to condemn previous societies, especially “Christian ones,” because they didn’t live up to modern norms of understanding about what “Christian” means, or meant. They do this in regard to slavery and imperialism, especially. They also fail to discriminate between people who merely called themselves Christian and then did what they wanted to do, and people who DID make a serious attempt to live in the light of historical understandins of their time about what being Christian meant.

    Kirsten, you said this: ‘although some of the economic ideals of classical liberalism should work in the Global South, they’ve only kept people in extreme poverty. (Yes, I recognize obvious political factors at work here, too–corrupt governments won’t implement things properly. But the failure of SAPs can’t be completely attributed to things like that, imho.)”

    I know of no multi-generational attempt to implement free-market capitalism in a framework of laws in the Global South. Do you? The closest might be India… but we’re about a generation into its experiment. It seems to be working miracles, though.

    One HUGE failing of the left is the notion that problems that took centuries to create can be fixed in a generation if only we had the will and the determination… meaning, if only the left had the POWER to “do what’s right.” We’ve seen what three or four generations of socialism can do to a society… and it’s mostly bad. But it is a straw man to say that “free market capitalism in a framework of laws” has been tried and failed, anywhere, unless that attempt lasts at least two or three generations. The USA was not rich, by Western European standards, in 1810. It took generations of freedom and economic development to get there.

    I am so weary of hearing how “capitalism failed” for the former Soviet Union. Bluntly, it was never tried.

    I know this has been a potpouri sort of comment. Too much to reply to in detail in this thread.

  21. Kirsten says:

    I realize that this thread has veered far from where it originally started (I believe I was agreeing with some of Phil’s assessment about the article I brought to his attention). But since no one else seems to mind, I’ll continue down the rabbit hole. However, as my intent has never been to convert anyone to my political worldview–and I don’t think I’ve stated or implied as such in my previous posts–but rather to pose some questions I find relevant when making judgments about these issues, I can’t promise I’ll continue posting after this one. I just don’t have the time to respond to everyone’s thoughts if I ever have hope of finishing prep for my exams. I can only hope that all of you who have given me food for thought have likewise been stimulated by my posts. That’s how they were humbly offered.

    Okay, first. Amsuikman, we can respectfully disagree about whether leftists or rightists are more apt to shut down conversation. I’ve found numerous people on both sides of the spectrum–and I do interact in very conservative worlds and very liberal worlds–that are unable to truly engage with each other in humility. I’ve already stated I think Phil and some of the other people I’ve encountered in his cyberspace are among those with whom I enjoy this kind of debate (you have been among them) because I do find they’re willing to talk. And hopefully you realize I hold to being ‘independent’–I certainly don’t align myself with the “Left” all on things.

    I agree that there are issues on which there shouldn’t be compromise, but I didn’t suggest that I though everything should be compromised by any stretch of my words. My point, which I will make again, is about the rhetoric on both sides of the aisle that constructs a monolithic, univocal conception of the ‘other’ side. Being unwilling to talk or dialogue with those that disagree with you–whether or not that ever leads to something called “compromise”–is a fascist tactic. I’m not saying “All conservatives are fascists” or even “All people unwilling to talk or dialogue with those that disagree with them are fascists” but rather “All fascists are people unwilling to talk or dialogue with those that disagree with them.” They’re very different statements.

    (By the way, in answer to your aside, I think a good example of reaching across the aisle is Sen. Franken’s amendment that passed in the Senate, 68-30, regarding withholding funding from defense contractors that don’t allow employees to pursue legal action in cases of sexual assault, battery, and discrimination.)

    It seems we also disagree about basic hermeneutical method, whether applied to theology or constitutional law. I think there is always-already interpretation. Your ability to read what I’m writing is interpretation or translation of signs into words and then into meaning. Obviously, I know there are varying degrees of ambiguity or clarity in any given text. (Though even in the discussion this thread has been having there have been misunderstandings.) But the fact that there is a canon of Scripture for believing Christians is a product of interpretation–someone had to decide what should be accepted and what shouldn’t. The fact that, as orthodox Christians, something called trinitarian doctrine is accepted is a product of interpretation. Again, there was not some singular idea or tenet other than Jesus at the birth of Christianity (and even understandings of what significance Jesus had were not singular). That there is a tradition that spans thousands of years from which to draw shows that it is based on interpretation. If Scripture were so straightforward, and/or we had a perfect ability to read God’s mind as it were put forth in the sacred text, we wouldn’t need interpretation. But I think that’s why when Jesus ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit–because we aren’t able to do anything without that Help.

    The Founders wrote the Constitution to frame certain guiding principles in lieu of delineating super-specific laws/practices because they were trying to create a document that would stand the test of time. Amazing foresight–recognition that you can’t possibly imagine and cover all potential issues but you can set out principles. So there was room to amend the Constitution. And there was a judicial branch set in place, presumably to make sure the executive and legislative branches were writing and enforcing laws that matched the Constitution. I just don’t see this as non-interpretive. We can disagree with the ways in which the Constitution has been interpreted, but I don’t see a tenable ground from which to say that the “right’ or historically more “conservative” hermeneutics aren’t interpretations. We could talk about interpretive methods such as Founders’ intentionality, but that is really stretching it when dealing with modern inventions and technology that are completely outside the realm of meaning for people who lived over 200 years ago.

    Which brings me to Phil. I suppose I could’ve acknowledged from the outset I think our different anthropologies are at the root of why we often, but not always, come to different conclusions. I think that while I agree humans may have always experienced something called affect, and may have always had something spiritual or transcendent in their proverbial purview, and may have always organized into a type of society, the specific differences in each instantiation are entirely significant. I think language helps to construct the way you see the world, so certain words missing or changing in meaning is definitely indicative of something deeper than just the existence or non-existence of a particular set of signs in a particular language. Technically, English adapted “schadenfreude” into its lexicon instead of translating it, so it created a new English word, borrowed from German. Obviously, people can have similar experiences without having the same name for them. What I’m positing is that language is in part constructive of the reality you experience as much as language is a human construction.

    I think trying to understand and make a modern one-to-one equation of what Aristotle was talking about when he mentioned “Friendship” as one of the passions commonly experienced, or even Descartes’ inclusion of “Emulation” as a passion in the sixteenth century–as though we have a modern emotion called “Friendship” or “Emulation”–is an anachronistic misinterpretation of historical fact (the fact being that we can never know beyond doubt what Aristotle actually meant, but we can try to construct plausible interpretations). So I do find it problematic to talk about “returning” to principles that may have governed a society in ancient or early modern history as though there aren’t numerous obstacles to maneuver around in order to do so. But this doesn’t mean that I don’t think you can learn from history; I think you learn what has worked and hasn’t worked, and then take into consideration how now is different, and try–attempt–endeavor–aim to incorporate those two elements to implement something that reflects that no matter how much it sucks, society is always in process.

    I hope you also realize I’m not advocating just shifting with the wind or letting go of absolutes or whatever. That might be how Melody’s reading me, I don’t know. We obviously can’t return to the past, but we can take what works and make something new out it.

    Since I don’t think I said I was either anti-capitalist or socialist–although I do think that there’s a problem in seeing modern American politics in such a way that you’re either a capitalist or socialist–I’m not really going to respond to those comments. In theory, capitalism should work–using humanity’s own greed for economic benefit that would reach everyone. But that does necessitate involvement on the part of the government to protect everyone’s opportunity to equal access to that benefit (because of the afore-mentioned human greed). I think this is something in principle that you advocate, if I’m reading you correctly.

    However, this version of capitalism has been the case arguably in this country only since the advent of the Civil Rights movement (not even after the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment or the success of the Civil War). The reason the cases of racism, sexism, etc., are so often referred to is because it’s relevant and they were–are still–relevant to the discussion. I’m not a relativist; nor do I think postmodernism is relativism 2.0 (we all probably disagree on this, too). I just don’t see enough evidence historically to prove that all individuals who argued for slavery or for imperialism or for whatever on the basis of Christianity did so without being convinced they were correct, that God had established certain hierarchies, etc. They may have been entirely sincere in their beliefs, though we might look at them and say they were sincerely wrong in their interpretations. That’s actually how many of the patristics who wrote against each other spoke of each other.

    I imagine you have a similar sentiment when thinking about or talking with fellow believers who are “left.” I say this because it is a conversation I have with my own family time and again, although since I didn’t grow up with a Calvinist understanding of grace, this is entirely problematic for some family members who continually worry about my eternal salvation. I can only assure them that I know I’ve accepted the grace that results from the atoning work of Christ on the cross and that my life is a continual working out of what that grace means and should look like in my daily undertakings. I’m not perfect, I don’t have all the answers, and I’m willing to learn. (Melody, this is why I disagree that my views are post-Christian.)

    India is, indeed, an interesting case. One that might be good for another thread. They have a unique set of problems trying to unify a country that is the 2nd most diverse geographic location on the planet (second only to the entire continent of Africa). Having spent time there this past summer, having a friend who works for a company with offices here and there (and seeing how it operates), and having read a bit about the development of the infrastructure (and seen a little about where it works and doesn’t)–I think it will definitely be telling. But I think it’s still too soon. The key will be the development of the quality of education if the (opportunity for) growth is to reach all sectors and classes/castes.

    Let’s see…. is there anything else to which I wanted to respond…. Melody, I never said that my statements re: slavery, etc., covered everyone claiming to be Christian. But there were factions that operated with generally accepted worldviews supported by their interpretations of Scripture with which both you and I would disagree. This is another instance where I wasn’t saying “All people who supported slavery were Christians” or “All Christians before the Civil War are people who supported slavery,” but rather “Some Christians in history were people who supported slavery.” Though I get that you might want me to change that to “Some people claiming to be Christians in history supported slavery,” I’ve come across enough people in my limited lifetime with whom I’ve had the thought I mentioned above–”I don’t know how you can claim Christianity and act this way”-but I also can’t doubt the sincerity of their faith. Regardless, I don’t think I talked at all about which political party was responsible for ending slavery. I was talking about how slippery the terms “conservative” and “liberal” really are based on the historically changing, different values each term has embraced at different points in history.

    Also, I never said anything about Christianity being linked to women’s oppression necessarily. That’s been, of course, a result of problematic interpretation. Surely the NT has been a great place to find support for equality, and Jesus was definitely all for women’s equal access to education and spiritual things, but that didn’t stop revered church fathers from Chrysostom to Augustine to St. Thomas to Calvin to come up with interpretations of women vastly different than widely held beliefs about women today, even by the most conservative complementarians. My point was, again, about how values change, and sometimes for the better. This might point out another worldview difference: you think I’m accusing you of adhering to a worldview that’s changed as though I think that’s a bad thing. I was pointing out these changes that are rooted in the modern “conservative” tradition as good things–because they’re recognitions of where we sincerely got it wrong in the past. Oh, but for God’s grace…

    This is me giving credit to Republican tradition for contributing to the end of slavery.

  22. Melody says:

    I just thought a reminder of the dictionary definition of fascism might be helpful to us all. I find it interesting that it is closely related to National Socialism which I thought was the Nazi Party. Talk about words meaning different things to different people.

    fas·cism (fshzm) KEY


    often Fascism
    A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.
    A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a system of government.
    Oppressive, dictatorial control.

    Italian fascismo, from fascio, group, from Late Latin fascium, from Latin fascis, bundle

    fas·cistic (f-shstk) KEY (Adjective)

    It is fitting that the name of an authoritarian political movement like Fascism, founded in 1919 by Benito Mussolini, should come from the name of a symbol of authority. The Italian name of the movement, fascismo, is derived from fascio, “bundle, (political) group,” but also refers to the movement’s emblem, the fasces, a bundle of rods bound around a projecting axe-head that was carried before an ancient Roman magistrate by an attendant as a symbol of authority and power. The name of Mussolini’s group of revolutionaries was soon used for similar nationalistic movements in other countries that sought to gain power through violence and ruthlessness, such as National Socialism.

  23. harmonicminer says:

    Thanks, Kirsten, for the long comment/reply. I’m sure you have lots on your plate… so feel free to let this be it if you want…. though I’m always happy to hear from you.

    Re: capitalism and free markets, and how well it has worked in the past, I have said (as I think you note) that a requirement is the rule of law, protection of civil rights, enforcement of contracts, etc. What is historically clear is this: in the US experience (also Hong Kong, India, parts of Europe at one time or another), capitalism has been the very best provider of economic security in history, for those who received those protections I listed. Unfortunately, many people can’t discern the distinction between an economic system and a political one, although they are obviously related, and some of these are incompatible with each other. Certainly, capitalism (and socialism!) can exist in societies where not all are allowed to benefit from them. There is such a thing as “state capitalism” although often it is very similar to straight national socialism with different labels. (Do you really privately own a production facility whose use is determined by the state, regardless of what the deed says?)

    So the solution for those times/places when capitalism did not benefit essentially everyone in the society who actually wanted to work is simple: change the political system to extend civil rights and other protections to everyone. Don’t change the economic system that lays the golden eggs.

    For the record, we have had only a brief flirtation with real capitalism in the USA. Read Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. We have had a “mixed” economy since at least the anti-monopoly/trust acts of the late 19th century. And we are becoming more and more socialist, inch by inch.

    It sounds like we agree about India… and it sounds like you accepted my general assertion that one can’t evaluate the success of free-market capitalism in a society without giving it two or three generations to work. I wonder if you still believe that capitalism/free markets has been tried by some Global South nation and found wanting, based on that standard.

    I’ll let amuzikman speak for himself… but of course interpretation is always necessary, and unavoidable, even in everyday speech and communication. The problem lies in failing to seek the communicative intent of the writer, based on historical understandings about what the words meant in context at the time. “Originalists” aren’t necessarily “strict constructionists,” of course, but I’m in favor of a blending of the two, given how often they will agree, and seeing the intended meaning (which is likely to be the meaning largely understood by the people who read the text at the time) as lying somewhere between those two poles.

    The problem I have with so much of current Biblical and Constitutional scholarship is that it starts with a desired outcome, and then tries to twist the words to make it come out that way. This is not a shotgun blast at all leftists… they SAY that’s what they’re doing! They make lists of all the things the text can’t possibly mean, and all the things they don’t want it to mean, and then constrain the outcome through those filters. We have a lot of Jesus-seminar type consitutional interpretation going on…

    Emanations of the penumbra indeed…

  24. harmonicminer says:

    Oh, one other thing, regarding Amuzikman’s assertion that it is far more often the left that shouts down the right. He is making that observation from within academia, where he experiences it almost daily.

    I have witnessed very little of the Right doing the same, for the simple reason that it usually doesn’t have the power to do so in academia, secular or Christian (sadly!). It is the Left in secular schools, and more and more in Christian ones, that has the ability to essentially silence the other side, and does so fairly ruthlessly, in a dozen different ways.

    How many examples can you name of “the right” suppressing/oppressing the “the left” in academia lately? Maybe a handful, in some small number of conservative institutions… but my observation is that even in those places, “the left” considers itself “oppressed” if you simply disagree with them, and say so clearly. On the other hand, it is the left, by its very nature and worldview, which is likely to construct evaluation systems that more or less enforce leftist perspectives as a matter of getting and retaining employment, because the Left is unconstrained in its view of what power can and should be used to accomplish in seeking its desired ends for society.

  25. dave says:

    **So since a few have taken scripture out of context**

    A few? Really? Melody, if you only think that “a few” have taken scripture out of context to justify “slavery, racism, sexism, etc.,” you don’t know history.

  26. Melody says:

    Can you cite specific examples?

  27. dave says:

    Oh my… are you serious?

    The Bible has been used to justify racism, sexism, and slavery throughout history. It is still used, everyday, to justify sexism, from the role that women are allowed to play in the church to the role that women play in homes/marriages.

    Read up on your history on slavery. The church was largely supportive of slavery throughout history, including a significant portion of the American church pre-Civil War. And while significant players in the abolition movement had their values based on Christian theology, it wasn’t necessarily the prevailing sentiment among Christian churches.

    As for racism, significant portions of Church have historically embraced racism and racist practices, from banning inter-racial marriages, to embracing segregation, to embracing (or at best, ignoring) Nazism. Anti-Semitism has long been a major issue in the church, and is justified with some out-of-context and distorted proof-texts.

  28. Melody says:

    Well, I suppose you have a point. Kind of like those ‘Christians’ who now claim that homosexual behavoir is somehow Biblical and that marriage between two homosexuals should be performed in church?

  29. harmonicminer says:

    Dave, I think you are making the mistake that you postmodern folk are supposed to be beyond, namely viewing the past through modern lenses, as if you’d have done better if only you’d been there.

    Re: slavery. EVERY culture has had slavery. NO culture made any serious attempt to end it until Christians did. It’s silly to point out that some Christian’s defended it. EVERYONE did, pretty much, until, for reasons flowing directly from Christian understandings of the nature and value of persons, Christians fought to end it. Even the “skeptics” were influenced by Christian worldview arguments… and said so, at the time.

    I suggest that you consider reading Thomas Sowell’s book, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, for more on this.

    Similar comments apply to the treatment of women. That is, the Christian view of women, down through time, though not as “liberal” (using the word in a good sense) as in modern times, was still far ahead OF its time, in the cultures where Christianity existed side by side with pagan or non-Christian religions… and that continues to be true today.

    Again, it has been Christians who have fought racism, not “progressives,” until it became fashionable to do so. It is less revealing to point out times when Christian’s simply reflected their culture than it is to point out times when they did not, and transcended their cultures in unique ways that no other group did.

    I do not deny that the Bible has been, and is, misused. The modern Leftist Christian tendency to see socialism as inherently more Christian than capitalism is a case in point.

    But that is simply Christians reflecting their cultures, not Christians doing bad things BECAUSE they are Christians.

Leave a Reply