Brian Leiter, professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, wrote a response to my response to Green’s idiotic post on conservatives in academia. Some of the points he makes echoes what other people have said on Daily Nous, where my post was also published yesterday. (He also replied to other people who criticized Green, but I will focus on his reply to me.) I want to respond briefly to the central point of his criticism, which he articulates in this passage:
Lemoine complains a lot in his post about claims that aren’t at all “obvious” but are taken to be so by complacent liberals. That’s a good point, but now he’s committed the same mistake here: Ted Cruz conservatives–there are tens of millions of them–do not find it obvious that much of their worldview is “obviously” “irrational.” And these folks are, indeed, up in arms about universities. Lemoine asserts that “only a small proportion of the people who complain” about liberal bias in universities are what I’m calling Ted Cruz conservatives. How does he know? No doubt the people he and I talk to who are familiar with mindless “groupthink” across the spectrum of political opinion are not Ted Cruz conservatives, but I doubt that is a representative sample of those who think universities are inhospitable to conservatives.
The claim is that millions of conservatives in the US have the kind of views Green claimed were rightly not taken seriously in universities, so he wasn’t caricaturing American conservatives in his post. Many other people have replied in more or less the same way, but it’s clearly missing the point I was making.
Neither I nor Green wrote a post about what American conservatism was, we both wrote a post about why American conservatives often complain about liberal bias in universities, which is not the same thing. I’m well-aware that millions of American conservatives have silly views, but I could say the same thing about American liberals, and in any case that’s beside the point. The fact that millions of American conservatives don’t believe that e. g. the US lost a war in Vietnam, even if it were a fact, doesn’t mean that it’s why they complain about liberal bias in American universities. But this is what Green purported to explain. As I said in my response to Green, I read a lot of American conservative publications and listen to a lot of their talk shows, so I’m quite familiar with the kind of things they typically say when they complain about liberal bias on campus and it’s not the kind of things Green is talking about. For instance, if you read Breitbart, you will see plenty of articles that criticize universities, but I can assure you that you won’t find many that do so on the ground that most people in universities don’t take seriously views that e. g. are inconsistent with evolution theory. In the overwhelming majority of cases, they are talking about things like the mindless identity politics that has taken over many American campuses, which even Prof. Leiter, who is hardly a conservative, has no sympathy for.
People who deny this, such as Green, simply aren’t familiar enough with the kind of things American conservatives think and why they have become hostile to universities. I don’t think it’s a coincidence if the proportion of Republicans who had a positive view of universities radically diminished as the number of speakers who were disinvited or prevented from delivering their remarks on campus increased. As recently as in September 2015, 54% of Republicans had a positive view of universities, while only 37% of them do today. Even if it were true that “Ted Cruz conservatives” typically complain about liberal bias on campus for the kind of reasons Green claims, I don’t know that Ted Cruz’s ideas gained that much ground among conservatives during that period. It’s not difficult to understand why the image of universities would rapidly degrade among conservatives as they see a philosophy professor assault one of Trump’s supporters with a bike lock. The fact that it’s just one moron who isn’t representative of university professors, while obviously true, is neither here nor there. I’m sure that, if university professors were overwhelmingly conservative and one of them was seen on television bashing a left-wing protester in the head with a bike lock, the image of universities would also degrade among liberals. Of course, this incident is just one example, but there are plenty of others. Again, if you read American conservative publications and listen to American conservative pundits, you will see that Green’s explanation of why they complain about liberal bias in universities is completely off.
I want to comment on one last point Prof. Leiter makes in his response to me, because I think it’s important. He claims that the problem is not really with anti-conservative bias in academia, but rather with what he calls the New Infantilism, as well as the kind of mindless identity politics some call the regressive left. Now, as Prof. Leiter knows, he and I agree on the stupidity of this recent development. As he also knows, I’m grateful to him that, on many occasions, he took the principled stance and opposed this pathological outgrowth of the left, even though he gained many enemies in the process. But when he claims that, once we put aside the New Infantilism and the regressive left, there is no real problem of anti-conservative bias in universities, he is simply wrong. I know because I have been on the receiving end of it plenty of times, yet I’m no “Ted Cruz conservative” and even less a fool. Not, to be clear, that I think all conservatives who share Ted Cruz’s views are stupid. I know many of them who are very smart, even though I disagree with them on many issues.
There is plenty of evidence that liberals in academia are biased against conservatives. For instance, this study from 2011 (which is cited in the paper by Duarte et al. I mentioned in my response to Green) shows that, when you ask them, liberal social psychologists will openly admit their willingness to discriminate against academics who they believe to be conservative. (Just to be clear, because I know that people aren’t going to read the paper and that some idiot will raise this objection if I don’t anticipate it, the authors controlled for competence in the study.) This result was replicated more recently by this study, which found the same thing across academia, not just in social psychology. (It also found that conservatives are just as willing to discriminate as liberals, but since they are a minority in virtually every department, including in fields which many liberals/progressives mistakenly believe are dominated by conservatives, this is presumably less of a problem.)
There is no reason to think that most of the academics who admitted their willingness to discriminate against conservatives are part of what Prof. Leiter calls the New Infantilism or belong to the regressive left, because thank God relatively few professors are, at least for now. So even if we somehow manage to get rid of the New Infantilism and mindless identity politics, which is going to take a while, we still won’t have eliminated the problem of anti-conservative bias in universities. People like me, but even people in academia who share Ted Cruz’s ideas and are not stupid, will still encounter imbeciles who think our views are obviously wrong, even though they have no fucking clue what they’re talking about, because they are just not familiar enough with the arguments from the other side to have a well-considered opinion on most issues. Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to what Prof. Leiter calls the New Infantilism, it runs much deeper than that.
EDIT: Prof. Leiter noted in correspondence that what he calls the New Infantilism was distinct from mindless identity politics. I agree that I wasn’t using those expressions very carefully, so I edited the post to avoid this confusion.
ANOTHER EDIT: Again, since many people still don’t get it, the basic point I’m making is that even if you have evidence that x believes that P and that people in universities don’t take P seriously, it’s not evidence that x is hostile to universities because of that.