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Should Higher Education Have a Leftist Bias?

I respond more in sorrow than in anger to Professor Marks’s review [1] of my Why Higher Education Should Have a Leftist Bias [2] and the comments following it.

My book began and concluded with an appeal to conservative readers to respond to it according to a set of “Ground Rules for Polemicists,” to which I also pledged myself, and which included the following:

Show that you approach opponents’ actions and writings with an open mind, not with malice aforethought. Concede the other side’s valid arguments–preferably toward the beginning of your critique, not tacked on grudgingly at the end or in inconspicuous subordinate clauses. Acknowledge points on which you agree at least partially and might be able to cooperate.

Summarize the other side’s case fully and fairly, in an account that they would accept, prior to refuting it.

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Be willing to acknowledge misconduct, errors, and fallacious arguments by your own allies, and try scrupulously to establish an accurate proportion and sense of reciprocity between them and those you criticize in your opponents. Do not play up the other side’s forms of power while denying or downplaying your own side’s.  Do not weigh an ideal, theoretical model of your side’s beliefs against the most corrupt actual practices on the other side.

Do not substitute ridicule, insult, or name-calling for reasoned argument and substantive evidence.

Why did Marks not only fail to mention or try to adhere to these ground rules but set out to flout every one of them, beginning with cheap-shot ridicule of the book as a “stale ’80s culture wars remix”? Why did he—along with nearly every other conservative editor, reviewer, and commentator who has discussed my book—reflexively jump into the “Gotcha!” mindset that has poisoned civil discourse in American politics and culture?

Rather than reiterate my 230-page case that academic leftists provide a legitimate counter-balance to all the “unmarked” conservative biases that are accepted as normative in American society, I direct readers to this description and table of contents [3] of my book. Marks did not try to provide anything like an impartial summary of my central thesis, the contents of these chapters, or my supporting arguments. Here is a post of one key section on Truthout.org, “Corporations, Corporations? Nobody Here But Us Chickens [4].” Isn’t there much in this chapter that TAC readers might agree with?

change_me

Marks doesn’t believe that my account of the provincial conservatism of many of my students is typical at many colleges. He teaches at Ursinus, a private, small, and selective liberal arts college, 30 miles from Philadelphia, which apparently emphasizes study of the classics; he suggests that the students are relatively liberal, as is common among liberal arts majors. It sounds like a wonderful college, and I would have loved to teach there. But I taught mainly at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, in a rural stretch of Central California; it was originally an ag college, and most of the English courses I taught were lower-division General Education and Breadth requirements for students in majors like Agricultural Management. Many such students resented having to waste their time and money on any general education at all. Does Marks really think that more college students resemble those at Ursinus than those at Cal Poly?

Marks also ignores my point about the long-enshrined bias in America of self-proclaimed conservative parents and students who conceive college as a place for the mindless worship of intercollegiate sports and of Greek social life, which has increasingly fostered drunkenness, rape, and fatal hazing. Nor does he consider my argument that the primary force against liberal education is the conservative one of corporations and professions turning higher education into publicly subsidized training of their work forces and conducting of their research. Nor does he condemn the Republican politicians who flaunt their disdain for intellect, science, reason, and humanistic knowledge, while their budget cuts have caused tuitions and student loan debt to skyrocket. Cannot academics on the left and right at least join ranks in opposition to these forces that are killing off liberal education and political literacy everywhere but in privileged schools like Ursinus?

Many of my students at Poly—and at the University of Tennessee, where I taught after retirement—identified themselves, in anonymous questionnaires, as conservative and Republican. Most, however, did not get their conservative ideas from Edmund Burke or Russell Kirk but from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. Many were baffled at being required in my course in argumentative writing and evaluating sources to undertake scholarly study of sources like Limbaugh’s and O’Reilly’s books, or the campaign rhetoric of Republicans and Democrats. However, nearly all came to recognize the factual unreliability and deceptive reasoning in these sources. My ultimate goal here was to lead students to read at the level of Burke and Kirk, in debate with intellectual liberal or socialist counterparts, rather than at the level of Limbaugh and O’Reilly versus Bill Maher and Al Sharpton.

Marks further claims I emphasize study of partisan politics to the exclusion of broader humanistic thought—but I am only arguing against its exclusion. He asks about study of political argument, “Can a more dreary, less useful, course of education be imagined?” What a strange statement from a political scientist, who surely knows that Socrates’ teaching students to debunk political sophists who make “the worse argument appear the stronger” is central to Western humanistic education. Don’t Marks and TAC’s readers think that political illiteracy presents any problem in this country or that the Socratic, critical study of current political rhetoric should be required somewhere in American education—far more than it has been in either college or K-12 courses in English or any other discipline?

Some of Marks’s accounts of my book are slanted. He writes disparagingly, “Lazere connects some ‘wryly humorous’ remarks of Irving Kristol to a ‘killing spree’ perpetrated by a man who believes that ‘all liberals should be killed.’” My passage here, referring to a recent incident in my home town of Knoxville, began by citing a 1976 column by Kristol in the Wall Street Journal advocating conservative invective against liberal journalists’ “professional integrity” and advising that they “have to be hit over the head a few times before they pay attention.” I commented,

The ostensible tone of such pieces may have been wryly humorous, but whimsical metaphor was beyond the wave length of more crude-minded conservative constituents who pushed such verbal violence to literalness, in the manner of the Knoxville army veteran who went on a killing spree in a Unitarian church in the belief that ‘all liberals should be killed… because they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of major media outlets.’

The killer, Jim David Adkisson [5], testified he had compiled a hit-list inspired by a book of conservative media critic Bernard Goldberg, a disciple of Kristol, titled One Hundred People Who Are Screwing Up America.

Marks also distorts my comments about Alan Bloom, claiming that I “attack” him, whereas I found much to like in Bloom’s ideas and personality. He says I “accuse Bloom of trying to hide the obscenity to be found in great books, even though Bloom says that ‘obscenity predominates’ in Shakespeare’s brand of comedy.” I say no such thing, though I would say that Bloom’s bawdy sense of humor, his atheism, his intellectual elitism, and above all his homosexuality and death from AIDS (as confirmed by Andrew Ferguson in the Weekly Standard [6]) were concealed by those who promoted him as a paragon of conservative orthodoxy. Marks further criticizes me for claiming that Bloom ignored rock music’s connection to capitalism, “even though Bloom says that ‘the rock business is perfect capitalism.’”

Marks may be right on this precise point, though my larger argument is that Bloom, like many conservative intellectuals, didn’t have the nerve to pursue the implications of the fact that the degradations of commercial popular culture are driven wholly by capitalism’s amoral profit motive. My book suggests a strong similarity between Bloom’s critique of mass culture and that of Frankfurt School Marxists like Herbert Marcuse and Erich Fromm, though he misrepresented and ridiculed books by them without any indication that he had read them. (See my p. 137). I also point out several factual errors in Bloom reflecting his political bias.

My main criticism of Bloom is that he was coy at best in claiming to defend the traditions of liberal education that transcend partisan politics, while his books were coded rationalizations of Reagan Republicanism. He was the darling of the neoconservative Republican circle of power centered in the Olin Foundation, where Irving Kristol was a key figure. Olin associates funded the writing of The Closing of the American Mind, got it published, and managed to place rave reviews of it in the Wall Street Journal by William Kristol and in the (liberal?) New York Times by Olin stalwart Roger Kimball. All this publicity made it a bestseller and conservative Bible, though it is questionable how many who bought it had any clue about, or sympathy for, what the book actually said.

Finally, Marks disputes my argument in the chapter “Socialism as a Cognitive Alternative”:

Most [American public] discourse is confined to a narrow spectrum whose leftward limit is the Democratic-Party version of governance by relatively liberal multimillionaire corporate, financial, and military executives… . In recent elections, Democratic candidates have even refused to label their positions as liberal, while Republican candidates compete to declare themselves the most conservative. Conservative polemicists play up the power of liberal, and even socialist, forces in America, but why then has not just socialism but liberalism become the ideology that dare not speak its name?

Marks claims to refute me by citing the same polls I do, showing that a surprisingly large percentage of Americans support socialism over capitalism and have a negative attitude toward corporations. My point was precisely the disconnect between those polls and the absence of openly socialist or anti-capitalist spokespersons in mainstream American politics, media, and education—especially K-12, that training camp for capitalist consumerism and conformity. If that many Americans are sympathetic to socialism, it is not because of the information they get from mainstream sources but in spite of it. Why can’t we have anti-communistic socialist, social democratic, or labor parties and mass media, as in most other democracies? The issue here is not the relative merits of capitalism versus socialism but simply allowance for a wider range of speech and thought. Can we really depend on our two political parties and media that are branches of corporate capitalism to give an adequate hearing to arguments—including from the honorable tradition of anti-capitalist conservative thinkers—that this whole system has been destructive of “liberty and justice for all” and the environmental future of the planet?

Why do conservatives get so outraged, then, over the notion that liberal education is one of the very few arenas of American public discourse that might allow some voice for views outside of the capitalist mainstream? I do not believe those views should be imposed unilaterally or coercively but in even-handed study and civil debate with capitalistic ones. So I again invite Professor Marks and TAC readers to engage my arguments here in such debate, without “substituting ridicule, insult, or name-calling for reasoned argument and substantive evidence.”

Donald Lazere is professor emeritus of English at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and currently teaches at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. 


Jonathan Marks replies:

Thanks to Donald Lazere for his reply. For the most part, I am content to let my review speak for itself.

But Lazere should not get away with denying what he says in the book. I said that Lazere falsely accuses Allan Bloom of trying to hide the obscenity in great books. Lazere replies “I said no such thing” and that I have distorted his comments. But in his chapter on the “Radical Humanistic Canon” he claims that “conservatives” expurgate the “unabashedly earthy, erotic, and ribald” from literary classics, then names Bloom among the “ostensibly pious conservative leaders” who, though they have probably enjoyed a little obscenity themselves “try to protect the unsophisticated masses” from it.  More fundamentally, Lazere claims that he is arguing only against the “exclusion” of advocacy from higher education, but that’s not true. The very title of the book indicates that he thinks that higher education should have a leftist bias.

That claim depends on another claim, about students. Lazere thinks that students on the whole are “limited in their political views to the conservative commonplaces they have heard from their parents and peers.” That is why Lazere can argue that educators who self-consciously adopt a leftist bias are merely Socratics, questioning whatever assumptions students happen to come in with, rather than partisan combatants seeking to win converts. Instead of discussing the survey data I cite to counter this proposition—data from the Higher Education Research Institute, whose most recent survey reached 165,473 students entering 234 colleges and universities of various sizes, types, and degrees of selectivity—Lazere focuses entirely on what I say about my own experience, which he wrongly suggests is limited to Ursinus College. Lazere asks “Does Marks really think that more college students resemble those at Ursinus than those at Cal Poly?” Setting aside Lazere’s assumption, that I trust that he is a good observer of his own students, my answer is that I think that the HERI survey is a useful starting point, though not the final word, on what political assumptions students enter college with. As my review showed, that survey offers no support for the proposition that students are “limited in their view to the conservative commonplaces they have heard from their parents and peers.”

One last thing: Lazere chides conservatives at the beginning and end of his response for failing to mention or observe the “ground rules for polemicists” to which people have not been paying enough attention since Lazere first proclaimed them in the late 1990s. But you don’t need to read his book—you can just read his response—to see how well Lazere observes his own rules. Consider Lazere’s attempt to show that my review is slanted because I accuse him of tying Irving Kristol to a killing spree. He refutes this charge by quoting and elaborating on the passage in which he… ties Irving Kristol to a killing spree. Watch as Lazere moves from the observation that Kristol once said that liberal journalists may “have to be hit over the head a few times before they pay attention” to the fact that the killer referred to a book by Bernard Goldberg, to the claim that Goldberg is a “disciple of Kristol’s,” leading to a conclusion he need not state, that Kristol and other conservatives have blood on their hands. In the book, having given this example of what he regards as sound reasoning, Lazere moves on to chide Kristol for arguing poorly. (“This level of writing would represent a “D” in freshman English.”)

Lazere has a right to say that few in the “Republican elite” have “ever made a visible sacrifice for their country,” or to quote approvingly a commenter who says they are “well-practiced in cashing in on every decent impulse and every human tragedy,” or even, in a juvenile moment, to refer to Bill Bennett’s “portly physique.” But please, no more lectures on civil debate.

Jonathan Marks is professor of politics at Ursinus College. 

26 Comments (Open | Close)

26 Comments To "Should Higher Education Have a Leftist Bias?"

#1 Comment By A Reader From Australia On December 18, 2014 @ 3:43 am

Well, Donald Lazere strikes me as the out-and-out victor here, even if his book (which I have not yet read) might perhaps have been more felicitously titled than it is.

He postulates as one of his ground rules: “Do not weigh an ideal, theoretical model of your side’s beliefs against the most corrupt actual practices on the other side.” Herbert Butterfield could have written this sentence, which fact I take to be a high compliment; it is a sentence deadly to the pretensions of hardcore Marxists and hardcore neocons alike.

#2 Comment By SteveM On December 18, 2014 @ 9:17 am

Meh… College is a transitory experience for students. The Leftist bias is what it is and nothing is going to change it.

You can’t fight Orwellian City Hall. Regardless of the dominant campus ideology, parents should just counsel their kids to mouth back every biased opinion that a professor articulates.

Why should a student put a grade at risk through meaningless dialectics that can only injure them. Whether it’s from the Left or the Right, restate the propaganda, collect the A and move on…

#3 Comment By Brian Stahl On December 18, 2014 @ 9:45 am

You tell him, Dr. Marks.

#4 Comment By Mark Perkins On December 18, 2014 @ 9:58 am

Good conversation here. In glancing at Dr. Lazere’s table of contents, as he requested, I do get the sense that his book may have a wider range and more compelling points than Marks’ review indicated. Dr. Marks may have engaged in some caricaturing of Lazere’s book to make it seem more ridicluous.

Marks is right on the money here, though: Lazere attempst “to show that my review is slanted because I accuse him of tying Irving Kristol to a killing spree. He refutes this charge by quoting and elaborating on the passage in which he… ties Irving Kristol to a killing spree.”

I couldn’t quite figure out how restating Marks’ exact point = refuting a slanted account.

A last point on polling: after reading Marks’ review, I wrote [7] in his takedown. I think that response still stands, but I’d broaden it to say I think both Dr. Marks or Dr. Lazere are trying to use the black-and-white cudgel of polling data to get at some very subtle issues of “unmarked norms” and unspoken assumptions. Polls generally can’t tell us much about our motivating desires or deeply held beliefs. The ones cited above are no exception to this rule.

#5 Comment By hetzer On December 18, 2014 @ 10:21 am

Marks was just trying to provide a legitimate counter-balance to all the “unmarked” liberal biases that are accepted as normative in your book.

#6 Comment By Eric V On December 18, 2014 @ 10:56 am

I think Lazere makes some fair points about raising the level of discourse for his conservative students, as we all know very well that many conservative teenagers have not been exposed to any conservative thinking beyond the Republican party and Fox News.

BUT, I don’t believe him that this is the central point/thesis of his book. Rather, it seems he’s arguing that American students are characterized by a general conservative bias, and it’s the role of higher education to correct this bias by providing the liberal counterpoint.

For me, there are at least two issues with this:

1. Having been at three public universities with three distinct characters (Virginia Tech, CU-Boulder, and Colorado State), I would say that, on average, for every Bill O’Reilly disciple there is a complementary Bill Maher disciple. But mostly there are kids that have never critically thought about social/political/economic issues in the first place. So his assertion of a general conservative bias is false – i think, for the most part, universities contain a pretty fair cross-section of our nation as a whole.

2. Whether incoming freshmen are biases from right/left, or largely lacking in political/social opinions when they arrive, is indoctrination from the left really the key to achieving ‘balance?’ I’ve never found that confronting one bias with another is the best way to show someone the middle path. If people like Lazere are truly interested in evening out the intellectual bias of their students, wouldn’t the best method include…you know…an unbiased/balanced perspective? Or at least a fair survey of the different biases out there? I can personally owe my Burke discipleship to a liberal teacher that had enough guts to include Burke in a ‘Survey of Political Theory’ course, which was in direct contrast to my other liberal professors who represented conservative thought as a caricature bearing resemblance to Fox News…

#7 Comment By The Wet One On December 18, 2014 @ 11:12 am

I’m inclined to think that within the realm of science, it most certainly should have a leftist (if that’s what you call it) bias. There is a real world out there. From the positions that the right takes on them, the right seems to have serious problems identifying what exactly the real world is and has real problems with the actual study of it. Just because the findings of science don’t fit into your ideological pre-conceptions of the world, doesn’t invalidate them. This is more of a problem on the right than the left in my view.

As for the rest of the academy, meh, it’s a bit of a wash. But in the realm of science, I think the matter is fairly clear. I’m not entirely sure that addressing the findings of science is a matter of leftist bias though.

If your house is filling with smoke, is looking for the fire and doing something about it really a left or right issue? I wouldn’t think so, but some seem to think otherwise.

#8 Comment By the unworthy craftsman On December 18, 2014 @ 12:11 pm

Government. Corporations. Same thing. Same people. Same goals. The idea that we have to line up on the side of one or the other is misleading and bogus. The last thing the big corporations want is a free market, PR, hype and propaganda notwithstanding.

#9 Comment By grumpy realist On December 18, 2014 @ 1:48 pm

I find it amusing that the “post-modernist” views of the Academe are labeled reflexively as “leftist” in light of the following quote from an unnamed aide to George W. Bush (later attributed to Karl Rove):

“The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”‘

Post-modernism, indeed.

#10 Comment By Irenist On December 18, 2014 @ 2:36 pm

Dr. Lazere deserves praise for posting this at TAC despite his disagreements with conservatism, and TAC and Dr. Marks deserve praise for giving him the forum.

#11 Comment By William Dalton On December 18, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

Would we be reading this debate (much more, would we even have seen a review of this book in TAC) if the title of Lazere’s work had been, “Why Higher Education Should Have a Liberal Bias”? A liberal bias is a bias towards free and unhindered inquiry and discussion of any topic of debate, which I believe should be a fundamental precept held by any college or university. It is what Dr. Lazare holds up as his “Ground Rules for Polemicists”, which I heartily applaud. There is nothing inconsistent with liberalism, so defined, and American conservatism, at least the variety of American conservatism defined by The American Conservative. This, however, is not Leftism, as practiced in American politics, and particularly as practiced in the American academy. Neither is Conservatism of the Fox News, Weekly Standard variety.

What I find off-putting in Dr. Lazare’s writing, though (and I acknowledge I have not read his book, but only this column), is that he exhibits more concern to defend himself personally than he does the substance of his thesis. This writing seems better suited for a “Letter to the Editor” than a guest column. And, really, to complain that agricultural management students at a technical college “resented having to waste their time and money on any general education”? If Dr. Lazare held his students in such low regard I shouldn’t wonder if what his students resented was not English literature but his teaching of it.

#12 Comment By Donald Lazere On December 18, 2014 @ 8:58 pm

Jonathan Marks’s response, alas, reminds me of Nixon operative Roger Stone, whose credo was, “Admit nothing, deny everything—launch counterattack.” That is the title of Chapter 4 of my book (available as a Word file by request at [8]), unmentioned by Marks, which describes an unbroken chain of Republican successors to Stone who have deliberately practiced character assassination, polarization, wedge issues, and pure obstruction. I’m not implying by any means that Marks is such an operative; he does, however, seem set against acknowledging their existence and influence on public opinion as one of the multiple forms of conservative bias that I claim should be countered by higher education.

He just seems unwilling to give an inch, to say that he agrees with me about ANYTHING, and he seems totally humorless. Isn’t it clear that the title of my book is tongue in cheek? My original main title was Two Cheers for Political Correctness (dropped by the equally humorless editors at Palgrave-Macmillan).

Didn’t I make my real aim clear in saying “My ultimate goal here was to lead students to read at the level of Burke and Kirk, in debate with intellectual liberal or socialist counterparts, rather than at the level of Limbaugh and O’Reilly versus Bill Maher and Al Sharpton”? Who here would take issue with that? Marks just avoids my stronger arguments to nitpick at others, as readers will observe if they read both pieces over again.

Speaking of humor, I was using it to point out the hypocrisies of conservative leaders who do not practice what they preach, like William J. Bennett, an outspoken Catholic who huffs and puffs defending religion, patriotism, and militarism, while he never volunteered for military service and has laid up riches (and gotten portly) from his parade of piety and “chicken hawk” rhetoric, millions of those riches being lavished on Las Vegas gambling casinos. “If thou wouldst be perfect . . .” It is not ad hominem argument to point out a gap between what people practice and what they preach, is it, Professor Marks?

But seriously, about those polls on college students’ political beliefs, it would be most useful if they factored in geographical, demographic, and religious identities, religious beliefs, and especially liberal arts majors versus those in occupational and vocational majors. Do you know any polls that do? Really, Professor Marks, why is it so hard for you to admit that Americans and their children living in rural regions and having little interest in general education are far more inclined to be conservative (at a pre-college level of political knowledge) than urban students or liberal arts majors? One comment here says I hold my students in low regard, but I am merely stating the obvious about their frequent conservative bias. Do I hold them in low regard by teaching them to read and debate at a higher level than Rush Limbaugh or Al Sharpton?

Finally, about Irving Kristol, will Marks please answer my questions: “Professor Marks, do you think the sainted Kristol was acting like a responsible conservative intellectual in writing this? Do you think he might have been more circumspect if he had foreseen (as he should have) the extremes such rhetoric could incite?”

Thank you, and best personal wishes.

#13 Comment By Jon Socrates On December 18, 2014 @ 10:12 pm

From this article, Lazere’s position seems rather close to the old progressive Trojan horse of “expanding students minds.”

To be fair to Lazere, there really are plenty of Alex P. Keatons out there. It’s also true that they need their minds expanded, but this is because they’re young, not because they’re conservative. Enforcing Lazere’s “Ground Rules for Polemicists” should get the job done, and so any call to also add a Leftist bias certainly gets the Spider senses tingling.

#14 Comment By Jonathan Marks On December 19, 2014 @ 9:05 am

I do not want to let Professor Lazere’s comment above go unanswered, so let me put in a word. Then, if Lazere wants the last word, he is welcome to it.
1. The whole answer, I think, is self-convicting as far as Lazere’s rules for polemicists are concerned. It begins by comparing me to a Nixon operative, notes that I seem humorless, speculates on what I find difficult to admit, accuses me of evading points I address in my review or my opinion concerning which can readily be deduced from it, and ignores cases in which–as in his point on Bloom and obscenity–I have caught him denying what he actually said quite explicitly.
2. He insists I answer concerning Kristol, whom he calls “the sainted Kristol.” But let’s note that having claimed my treatment was slanted, he now restates the indefensible point I said he makes, that a double murder was the predictable consequence of Kristol’s statement in a column that liberal journalists may “have to be hit over the head a few times before they pay attention.” In other words, my treatment of that argument was accurate. So, if Lazere wants me on the record, I’ll say that I don’t think it’s plausible to propose that someone who uses the equivalent of the common phrase “we need to knock a few heads together” is inciting violence. much less murder.
3. Lazere says that I don’t deal with his strongest arguments and denies that he is actually saying that higher education should have a leftist bias. Neither is true. Lazere’s claim that college students come to college stuffed with conservative views, and that consequently, professors should have a leftist bias to push against the conservative bias with which students have otherwise been surrounded is the very core of Lazere’s argument. That’s what I address in the review. Lazere quotes only the passages from his book that say he wants students to think more. But he can’t back away from the main argument of his book–that the way to get students to think more is to tack against their conservative (understood for the most part, albeit not entirely, in a narrowly political sense) views. I am surprised that he now wants to say I’m humorless for not realizing that the main argument of his book was an elaborate practical joke.
4. I said it in my review, but I’ll say it one more time. Although I doubt much of what Lazere has to say, even about his own students, Lazere didn’t write a book about his own students, or liberal arts students, or vocational students. He wrote his book about higher education. The HERI data is imperfect, but it is not slanted toward liberal arts schools like Ursinus and it gives us a kind of average–68% of freshman surveyed, for example, in favor of the wealthy paying more taxes. I consider this a useful check against Lazere’s personal experience concerning his own students, which may or may not portray them accurately (at my own school, Faculty at institutions differ about the character of their student bodies–it turns out that PhD holders are prejudiced, too–so there is no reason to take Lazere’s word for the character of CalPoly an institution–it is in the same selectivity category as Ursinus; in any case, I have also taught at Michigan State and Carthage College).
5. Lazere excuses his fat jokes on the grounds that hypocrites should be exposed. All right. But if his rules for polemicists permit you to discredit your opponents as fat, parasitical chickenhawks, then they don’t mean anything. I don’t doubt that Lazere means to adhere to his rules, but as his opening comparison of me to a Nixon operative demonstrates, he just can’t help himself.

#15 Comment By Fran Macadam On December 19, 2014 @ 9:14 am

Students do generally come with an inherent bias, that of the consumerist, corporate culture they have been bathed in. Conservatism can have an association with not going against or seriously questioning the status quo. Those married to the status quo and benefiting from it, are often reactionary. That is why the old Soviet leadership was considered both conservative and reactionary, despite being leftist and communist.

I think Lazere’s point is not so much ideological proselytizing, but rather that the examined life is more worth living.

As for Bloom, I am certain that personal failures and foibles don’t necessarily invalidate discoveries of truth, but hidden hypocrisy is germane if it reveals a hidden agenda that invalidates claims to truth-seeking, and requires further investigation.

#16 Comment By Fran Macadam On December 19, 2014 @ 9:21 am

Ideas do have consequences. Which is why the American general forced German academics to see the concentration and extermination camps personally, to show them what others did with those ideas.

Would that Kristol and other neocons could be forced from their academic and intellectual perches to see the terrible consequences of their own ideology on its victims.

#17 Comment By Simon in London On December 19, 2014 @ 1:44 pm

My good ole boy brother in law went to UT Knoxville. He went from empty-headed redneck to empty-headed leftist. Not an improvement.

No, higher education should not have a ‘leftist bias’. Teach your students to think, which means *not* ramming a leftist ideology down their throats, just as you object to the right-wing beliefs they arrive with. You seem to conflate ‘leftist bias’ with ‘open-minded questioning’ here, but IME as an academic it is the dominant leftists who are far more doctrinaire than the classical liberals; actual conservative academics are almost non-existent in the Anglosphere.

#18 Comment By Simon in London On December 19, 2014 @ 1:55 pm

Eric V:
“Having been at three public universities with three distinct characters (Virginia Tech, CU-Boulder, and Colorado State), I would say that, on average, for every Bill O’Reilly disciple there is a complementary Bill Maher disciple. But mostly there are kids that have never critically thought about social/political/economic issues in the first place. So his assertion of a general conservative bias is false – i think, for the most part, universities contain a pretty fair cross-section of our nation as a whole.”

That’s my impression too. Of course students at UT Knoxville are mostly right-wing and haven’t thought much about stuff. But the solution is not indoctrination in Leftist orthodoxy (which apparently is what happens at UT) – the solution is to present them with various ideas and let them make up their own minds. Help them to think, don’t tell them what to think.

And FWIW this is equally true of left-liberal students arriving in New England colleges. Don’t give them right-wing propaganda (not that that is likely!), but don’t give them leftist orthodoxy either (as usually happens). Give them Burke and Aquinas as well as Locke and Mill, and Marx, and Barrington Moore Jnr perhaps (a Frankfurt Schooler historian I quite like) and HELP THEM TO THINK.

#19 Comment By Simon in London On December 19, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

The Wet One:
“I’m inclined to think that within the realm of science, it most certainly should have a leftist (if that’s what you call it) bias. There is a real world out there.”

Leftist views on human nature are massively divorced from reality, whereas traditionalist conservatives are the reality-based ones (unfortunately modern neoconservatives are even worse than the leftists they descend from).

I’m pretty sure Leftist Green orthodoxy on climate change/AGW is wrong too, though admittedly conservatives are (probably) right about the lack of AGW only by chance, few have actually studied the science.

#20 Comment By ADL On December 19, 2014 @ 2:43 pm

I don’t know if it should have a leftist bias, but the linked piece below is an interesting analysis of what happens when academia has such a strong leftist bias:

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#21 Comment By Donald Lazere On December 20, 2014 @ 4:17 pm

Well, Marks again demonstrates that his mantra is indeed, “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack.” (That was the ONLY point on which I compared him to the Nixon operative who said this.) If readers review our opposing texts, they will find that he has totally avoided most of my main arguments, in favor of repeatedly nitpicking on relatively minor points.

First, to clarify just one of those minor points, Marks quotes me almost correctly about Allan Bloom and bawdy humor, but he garbles the point I was trying to make, which is something like this. I think The Closing was intended to be a scholarly book, addressed to a scholarly audience, making a strong argument for elitism (some of which I agree with). What I objected to is the way it was promoted and widely regarded as a model of conservative proprietry at the level of the Republican base that despises “the cultural elite,” which Bloom acquiesced to. When Marks says that B writes in praise of the bawdry in Shakespeare, does he think B’s intended audience was conservative Christians? Does he think that when B was feted by Reagan and Thatcher, they chortled over the dirty jokes in Shakespeare and Martial or relished the gay passages in Plato, or that they lauded his atheism and homosexuality? I agree with Jim Sleeper that Bloom would have been as repulsed by the Tea Party as he was by the Black Panthers. But might it just be following Leo Strauss’s “noble lie” for the conservative elite to make a show of probity for the masses on morals that they don’t believe in or practice themselves? Marks generally dodges one of my main points: the contradictions between conservatism at the intellectual level versus that of Republican politicians and propagandists, or the mass “Republican base,” whose widespread, wild misconceptions I am urging conservative intellectuals to be more forthright in denouncing. (Sure, the left has a similar problem with populism and elitism, and another, forthcoming book of mine tackles this problem.)

Marks rationalizes the inconsistencies in Bloom, Norman Podhoretz, and Irving Kristol (who waffled between defending a conservatism of high intellectual and moral standards and gutter-fighting invective in his Wall Street Journal columns), but I wonder whether if liberals or leftists said and did things like those Marks excuses here, he would grant them the same dispensation or would launch furious tirades against their hypocrisy. What I argue against above all is double standards, whether on the right or left. (If I commit them myself, my bad.)

Marks’ point #5 criticizing my making fun of Bill Bennett is well-argued. (But Marks sure has turned into Mr. PC in protesting against my “weightism.”) I could fudge by saying that according to my ground rule, “Do not substitute ridicule, insult, or name-calling for reasoned argument and substantive evidence,” I have not substituted ridicule for substantive evidence, but have justified the ridicule by the evidence I presented. But never mind, I grant Marks’ point. I should have disregarded Bennett’s girth and just said, “Woe unto ye, pharisees and hypocrites.” Or quoted John Winthrop’s exhortation to the Puritan colony in Massachusetts, “We must abridge our own superfluities to provide for others’ needs.” Has devout Christian Bill Bennett ever been known to abridge his superfluities to provide for others’ needs,” say, while staying in VIP suites and gambling millions in Las Vegas, that shrine to Christian virtues?

In conclusion, let me reiterate yet again how Marks and several commentators have misinterpreted my title to pile on me as a straw-man leftist ideologue. I said earlier that the title was tongue in cheek. For Marks to blow this up into “an elaborate practical joke” confirms the sad lack of proportion and tendency toward rhetorical overkill that mar his writing and that of so many conservative polemicists.

Nowhere do I advocate leftist bias or political correctness, and I condemn actual instances of it. My argument is basically that conservative attacks against leftist bias (actual or alleged),) again tend to be based, deliberately or inadvertently, on a double standard and absence of proportion that erases a world of comparable or worse conservative biases that permeate our society and education, but that are generally not “marked,” as linguists say, as cause for criticism. So I assert that college education is one of the few social sites that allow the freedom to “mark” those conservative biases and to expose students to leftist arguments and evidence critiquing them—not as an equal and opposite bias, but as an attempt toward evening the playing field so that the opposing sides can be judged evenhandedly. This attempt to give a fair hearing to liberal/left views is what many conservatives misunderstand to be “liberal bias.”

The locations of conservative biases that generally go unremarked, in comparison to the alleged biases of liberal education, include corporations (with their massive propaganda apparatus of advertising, public relations, media ownership, think tanks, and political influence in both major parties), the military and police, plus the whole consumer society and economic system of capitalism (euphemized as “the free market”). Fran Macadam’s two comments here following Marks’ last post shrewdly confirm my point, with examples such as, “Students do generally come with an inherent bias, that of the consumerist, corporate culture they have been bathed in. Conservatism can have an association with not going against or seriously questioning the status quo.” Even many students who call themselves liberals have been so saturated in consumer culture that it’s invisible, like the air they breathe.

Other long-entrenched forms of “unmarked” conservative bias in college education include those I have previously noted, the “good old boy” culture of football worship and Animal House fraternities, the prevalence of career or technical education over liberal education (preeminently in colleges like Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where I taught), and the increasing dominance over universities of research serving corporations.

Finally, to repeat what I emphasized previously, many of my students at Poly (and at the University of Tennessee, where I taught after retirement) identified themselves, in anonymous questionnaires, as conservative and Republican. Most, however, did not get their conservative ideas from Edmund Burke or Russell Kirk but from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. Many were baffled at being required in my course in argumentative writing and evaluating sources to undertake scholarly study of sources like Limbaugh’s and O’Reilly’s books, or the campaign rhetoric of Republicans and Democrats. However, nearly all came to recognize the factual unreliability and deceptive reasoning in these sources. My ultimate goal here was to lead students to read at the level of Burke and Kirk, in debate with intellectual liberal or socialist counterparts, rather than at the level of Limbaugh and O’Reilly versus Bill Maher and Al Sharpton.

WHY HAVE MARKS AND THE COMMENTERS SUPPORTING HIM NOT SAID ONE WORD ABOUT THESE, MY CENTRAL ARGUMENTS, OR GRANTED THAT MY ARGUMENTS HAVE ANY MERIT AT ALL?

I am grateful to the editors of The American Conservative for allowing me to have my say (as well as encouraging further such good-faith dialogue in the future between conservatives and liberals/leftists) and to those commentators who have at least partially supported me. I only regret that my book was assigned for review to someone who lacked the least trace of the qualities invoked in TAC’s mission statement: “We believe in the conservatism of our forefathers: prudent, adaptive, humble, and grateful” (I would just replace “grateful” with “gracious”or “benevolent”).

In that benevolent spirit, I extend best holiday wishes to all, including Marks.

#22 Comment By Donald Lazere On December 20, 2014 @ 5:20 pm

PS. I neglected to acknowledge that, aside from evading many key issues, Marks does make some strong arguments, whether or not I agree with them, and he is a formidable opponent. We could go back and forth on these issues indefinitely. Someday I would hope we might even agree on a few things.

#23 Comment By American On December 21, 2014 @ 1:08 pm

The leftist bias was Orwellian at the public universities I attended (I have two master’s degrees and a bachelor’s of science) and the professors themselves were as left as left gets… reminiscent of something from the now defunct Soviet Union.

Any deviation from their Marxist state atheist view of the world certainly could result in them grading you down.

I have an above average IQ (yes it’s been tested) and found the actual academic work easy. At first, I tried to actually explain to them why their view of the world was flawed, producing undesirable results for the nations that implement/implemented it, and on track to create systemic socio-economic and societal failure within twenty to fifty years in Western Civilization but was academically penalized for doing so. I learned to just parrot back to them what I felt they wanted to hear and graduated with an A average for each degree.

Now I work to ensure I’ll have be in good stead when the difficult times come, a result of their worldview in practice. They’re unsalvageable but you can save yourself.

#24 Comment By Donald Lazere On December 21, 2014 @ 2:14 pm

Which has WHAT to do with any of my actual arguments, which American shows no sign of having read? Does s/he think that liberal or socialist views are accorded a fairer hearing in, say, corporate boards, the military and police departments, the Chamber of Commerce, advertising agencies, amateur and professional sports, vocational schools and colleges, or university research and professional schools serving business? S/he confirms precisely my point about conservatives’ lack of proportion in weighing bias in academia against that in the larger society that academics provide minimal counterweight to. Any justified attempt by them to provide a fair hearing for leftist views is what conservatives misconstrue to be “leftist bias.” I do no deny that such bias sometimes does occur, and I condemn it, but it is again a matter of judging it in proportion to opposite and far more than equal conservative biases in corporate, consumerist society. Isn’t it true that many people like American have rarely if ever given a thought to all these aspects of American life as having a conservative bias?

#25 Comment By Simon in London On December 24, 2014 @ 1:49 pm

Donald Lazere:
“When Marks says that B writes in praise of the bawdry in Shakespeare, does he think B’s intended audience was conservative Christians? Does he think that when B was feted by Reagan and Thatcher, they chortled over the dirty jokes in Shakespeare and Martial or relished the gay passages in Plato, or that they lauded his atheism and homosexuality? ”

Margaret Thatcher did not have a sense of humour, but she was a social classical-liberal and couldn’t care less about homosexuality; I don’t think she cared if someone was atheist either. Bloom’s private life would have been irrelevant to her.

#26 Comment By Simon in London On December 24, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

Lazere:
“Nowhere do I advocate leftist bias or political correctness, and I condemn actual instances of it.”

I’m glad we’re all agreed, then!

I am definitely in favour of exposing students to socialist texts – and to think critically about them. I sometimes teach on a course where 1st year students are given Feinman & Gabel, ‘Contract Law as Ideology’ – a Marxist critique of American contract law. I like to encourage students to examine Feinman & Gabel’s own ideology, as well as the one they attack.