Why so few conservatives in academia?

The Man Who Was… writes

Why conservatives aren’t well represented in academia:

1. Academia is not family friendly, so there is a selection effect against those who are more family oriented.
2. Academics favour ideas that show off their high IQ over common sense. The clever silly phenomenon.
3. Academics are already drawn from a general population whose respect for tradition and the sacred has been nearly obliterated by prosperity, comfort, and safety.
4. Once a critical mass is reached, academia becomes an uninviting place for conservatives.

Number 3 seems to me most important. Academics are even more liberal than the general population, but the general population is really liberal.

This is a good list, and 3 in particular seems true to me.  I get the impression that most of the professors I meet have always been liberal, that they inherited it from their social milieu and that nothing else was ever a live option for them.  Conservative and Christian academics, on the other hand, are very self-conscious.  We spend a lot of time thinking about the justifications for our beliefs and trying to figure out why they are so unpopular with our colleagues.

16 Responses

  1. I would break the explanation into three parts: initial selection bias, conditioning after selection, and expulsion/exiting. The initial selection bias toward liberalism will be strongest in the humanities and social sciences, but an evangelic “change the world” attitude will also be overrepresented among natural scientists. When an aspiring academic says that he is “interested in teaching,” he really means preaching. Conditioning tends to bring the natural scientists up to the level of liberalism one finds in the humanities and social scientists. Plenty of professors in the natural sciences begin as a-political geeks with an interest in wave functions or some obscure protein. Otherwise, they’re just looking to fit in, and so they conform to the milieu. Expulsion/exiting is rare, but if a professor leaves the academy because he’s disgusted with the ideology, he’s certainly right-wing. One can spend a lifetime in the university without hearing a conservative opinion, unless, perhaps, from some revolting dead-ender of a student.

  2. You might take a look at the following as well, although these are focused upon social sciences in particular:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/08/science/08tier.html?_r=3&src=me&ref=homepage
    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/02/unbiasing-academia/70955/
    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/02/what-does-bias-look-like/71153/
    http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/jhaidt-819710-haidt-postpartisan-social-psychology/

    These analyses aren’t perfect and certainly could go deeper, but may be a reasonable start. An important distinction to draw is that, regardless of the driving causes leading to the liberally skewed Academy – from self-selection bias to overt hostility and exclusion – that it is liberally skewed, and in fact characterized by a lockstep groupthink on various core issues and from which no dissent is tolerated, is undeniable. Academia as a liberal cult, anyone?

  3. 4a. Universities have ceased being places of learning for learning’s sake, and have instead become vocational training schools. The professors pretend to teach liberal arts, the students pretend to learn it and get their rubberstamp to move on to career-relevant coursework, and the parents pretend their kids are getting a quality education. In short, there is little incentive to fumigate the place of radical professors that have infested faculty, leaving the non-radicals to wonder that if no one else cares, why should they?

  4. It depends where you look. Plenty of academic medics are conservative and/or Christian. There is a similar phenonema in the quantitative sciences (STEM if you are from the USA).

    The liberal arts, on the other hand, is a giant echo chamber, repeating the same nonsense.

  5. “Tolerance and Diversity” is what Liberals force on conservatives; Liberals don’t have to obey that.

    This all goes back to the Enlightenment. The so-called “Enlightenment” was an Atheist/Jewish cultural revolution against the Roman Catholic Church that had control of all things. Thru the teachings of the “Enlightenment”, tolerance and diversity was used to break the stranglehold of the Roman Catholic Church.

    But what the Roman Catholicism practiced was what Nature teaches. “Tolerance and Diversity” is a fallacy. As can be seen in modern academia where anybody seen as conservative are driven from their ranks. Like begets Like, or “Birds of a feather flock together”; that is the Law of Nature. The Liberal stranglehold is just that. The shepard can not share the sheepfold with the wolve. Either the Wolve runs the sheepfold or the shepard; they both cannot share.

    People want to be around their like. And in Academia, conservatives are enemies. Liberals view conservatives, not as people with a different viewpoint, but as ignoramusess and downright evil. There is no room for compromise. They control. And they use that control to help their fellow travellers. It is just how Nature works.

  6. Do Christian goofs ever get tired of blaming all their woes on “the Enlightenment”? The roots of liberalism as a coherent doctrine are in English Puritanism — read the political texts of John Milton, which presage those of Locke in many ways, if you don’t believe me. Oliver Cromwell was likewise a devout Puritan. And it was the English system that later inspired the French XVIIIth century philosophes.

    The other favorite bogeyman of Catholics in particular is Martin Luther, for inaugurating Protestantism in the first place. But what they forget is that Luther had precursors — Jan Hus and John Wycliffe to name two of the more prominent. The main reason Luther was successful to a degree that they weren’t was that he had the Gutenberg’s printing press at his disposal. It was not Luther that sealed the fate of the Catholic Church, but the printing press and the diffusion of information, because it meant the Church could no longer control debates over scripture as easily as it did before and the true revolutionary nature of Christianity, which the Church had tried to tame, was unleashed. And even if Luther had suffered a tragic accident on the way to All Saints’ Church in 1517, you can rest assured that someone else would’ve came along eventually and kicked off more or less the same process.

    But this all returns to the fact that the Catholic reactionaries hoping for some revival of the Medieval Era are delusional and wasting their time. Their religion is part of the problem.

  7. As for conservative academics, don’t forget that in America conservatives are the party of Intelligent Design, climate change skepticism, opposition to stem-cell research, segregationists, as well as all those libertarian economic policies you criticized elsewhere that hurt the middle class. None of these things are going to endear conservatives to academia.

  8. Hi Drieu,

    The Puritans were indeed proto-liberals in some ways, meaning that they were half liberal and half Christian. I don’t see how you can justify treating their brand of Christianity as normative. The historical norm is much more like the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican establishments. The philosophes show us liberalism mature and self-conscious. And when liberalism is mature and conscious of its own nature, it rejects and persecutes Christianity.

  9. “Academics are already drawn from a general population whose respect for tradition and the sacred has been nearly obliterated by prosperity, comfort, and safety.”

    I strongly disagree with this statement. This statement has the causation completely reversed. Academics are MORE liberal than the general population and have been for some time. Liberal academics are the CAUSE of the leftward drift of the population. Rousseau, Locke, Marx, Emerson et al were not responding to a change in the general thought of the time; but, rather were agents of change themselves. Ivy tower academics are not liberal because the people are liberal; but, rather, the people are more and more liberal because the ivy tower academics have been teaching them to think that way.

    Also, this historical materialist idea that all changes in values and beliefs can be explained by changes in material welfare should be anathema to any conservative. As conservatives we should know that “ideas matter” and it is the philosophical and metaphysical beliefs of a society that determine its nature and these are changed through argument or a change in the intellectual elite; not through changes in material conditions.

    If devout societies are not always the richest it is because they CHOOSE to put God over Mammon. This does not mean that a society cannot be devout and scientifically & industrially advanced at the same time. American was a more devout country in the 1950s than it was at its founding. If it is true that it is the accumulated wealth and capabilities of a society that kills belief how can we explain this fact? How do we explain the devoutness of Victorian era England, the Byzantine Empire or the Holy Roman Emprie?

    The truth is that materialist causes for change in thought are less important than the effects of particular persons and schools which shape the beliefs of a nation.

  10. The reason why academia is more liberal than the general public is simple. Since 1933, academia is the way to government power. Ideas that do not expand the role of government do not have their disciples hired by the government and therefore do not last for long. Ideas that call for expanded roles for the government increase in prestige and acceptance as their propenents gain power. Any idea that destroys some of the power of non-governmental institutions, (the church, family, ethnic community, etc) paves the way for the government to expand to pick up that slack. Hence, ideas such as atheism, welfarism, individualism, and diversitarianism will tend to win out.

  11. Dude, this is all pure assertion. It not only contradicts the scientific literature that we have, but traditional wisdom as well.

    “And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

  12. Directed at Tenkev

  13. This does not mean that a society cannot be devout and scientifically & industrially advanced at the same time.

    This is the cool aid that a lot of conservatives drink.

    American was a more devout country in the 1950s than it was at its founding.

    This is nonsense. Back in the pioneer days rural people had less access to accredited churches, which is what fooled Rodney Stark into making a lot of ridiculous assertions like this.

  14. It is worth noting that, with the exception of Britain, the Reformation succeeded only in those countries that lay on or beyond the boundaries of the old Roman Empire.

    It is a commonplace in France, even amongst the most violently anti-clerical historians to see the Reformation as the revolt of the imperfectly civilised peoples beyond the Rhine against the Roman order. This is why they depict the fall of Paris to Bismark’s Prussia in 1870 as an event of almost cosmic significance, like the sack of Rome by the Goths.

  15. Stark’s findings on religious affiliation are not ridiculous, however they do require some interpretation. Church membership was very low–generally around 15% of the population, until the late 19th century, but this was due to the fact that most churches restricted membership to persons who could give a convincing account of an experience of personal conversion and were willing to place themselves under church discipline. In the 1830s church attendance–then described as “hearers”–was about 50% of the population, even in well-populated districts where options were plentiful, convenient, and varied. This was a marked increase from the 1790s, unquestionably the low point of Christianity in the United States.

    It is sometimes said that, among the many who didn’t attend church, many practiced “home religion.” No doubt this was sometimes true, but since many of these people were illiterate, it’s hard to know just what this means. My reading of contemporary accounts leads me to suspect that a great many were effectively Quakers, their knowledge of God derived from an inner voice rather than teachings by the clergy or reading the Bible. But most of these folk were ordinary “worldlings” who never thought about religion.

    Access to religious services was, as you say, often limited on the frontier because population density was very low. However, we have to remember that nothing necessitated a low population density. Pioneers could have purchased contiguous quarter-sections and supported regular religious services from the start. They chose to spread out in the low-density distribution because the opportunity to make a killing in land speculation was more important to them than attending religious services. The “ragged frontier” is, in my view, evidence of widespread religious indifference.

  16. I am very traditionalist conservative and hope to go into academia. :).

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