Preposterous Universe

Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Conservatives, science, academia

Paul Krugman states the obvious: one reason why academics tend to be liberals is that modern conservatism has become increasingly anti-reason and anti-intellectual.

Scientific American may think that evolution is supported by mountains of evidence, but President Bush declares that "the jury is still out." Senator James Inhofe dismisses the vast body of research supporting the scientific consensus on climate change as a "gigantic hoax." And conservative pundits like George Will write approvingly about Michael Crichton's anti-environmentalist fantasies.

Think of the message this sends: today's Republican Party - increasingly dominated by people who believe truth should be determined by revelation, not research - doesn't respect science, or scholarship in general. It shouldn't be surprising that scholars have returned the favor by losing respect for the Republican Party.

But honestly, this reasoning is a little self-congratulatory and superficial (even if it contains a lot of truth). The tendency of academics to be liberal runs much deeper than a reaction against the current wave of know-nothingism in the Republican party.

If we try to put in terms that are as value-neutral as possible, I think that it comes down to idealism and universalism. Conservatives tend to take pride in their tough-mindedness, a realistic and hard-nosed approach to the dog-eat-dog world we find ourselves in. Looking out for number one is not only a life strategy, but a moral good. Academics, meanwhile, tend to have a different set of values; not only do they value learning for its own sake (above more straightforward values of material success), but they develop an ability to understand and sympathize with people in different groups and circumstances. In the truest sense of the word, to be "conservative" is to cherish certain established verities, while a good academic is always questioning accepted ideas, and approaching alternatives in a spirit of open-mindedness. That's why you'll always find universities to be mostly liberal, even in the hard sciences (where even the most paranoid conservatives don't think that faculty are hired on the basis of their political views). None of the legislation that David Horowitz tries to get passed will ever change that.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

Preposterous Home
Atom Site Feed (xml)
RSS Feed
Technorati Profile
Bloglines Citations
Blogroll Me

About Last Night
Alas, a Blog
The American Sector
Asymmetrical Information
Big Brass Blog
Bitch, Ph.D.
Body and Soul
Brad DeLong
Chris C Mooney
Collision Detection
Creek Running North
Crescat Sententia
Crooked Timber
Daily Kos
Daniel Drezner
Deepen the Mystery
Dispatches from the Culture Wars
Dynamics of Cats
Electron Blue
Ezra Klein
The Fulcrum
Girls Are Pretty
Jacques Distler
James Wolcott
John and Belle
Julie Saltman
Lawyers, Guns and Money
Leiter Reports
The Loom
Matt McIrvin
Matthew Yglesias
Michael Bérubé
Michael Nielsen
Mixing Memory
Mr. Sun
Not Even Wrong
Obsidian Wings
Orange Quark
Paige's Page
Panda's Thumb
Playing School, Irreverently
Political Animal
The Poor Man
Quantum Diaries
Quark Soup
Real Climate
Roger Ailes
Rox Populi
Shakespeare's Sister
Simple Stories
Sisyphus Shrugged
Smijer & Buck
TPM Cafe
Uncertain Principles
Volokh Conspiracy

Powered by Blogger
Comments by Haloscan
RSS Feed by 2RSS.com

February 2004
March 2004
April 2004
May 2004
June 2004
July 2004
August 2004
September 2004
October 2004
November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
May 2005
June 2005
July 2005