I remember reading Ramparts magazine when I was a teenage wannabe leftist in the early 70s. And after I had migrated rightward (my first Republican presidential vote was in 1980), I noticed that David Horowitz, the erstwhile editor of Ramparts had done so as well. To be sure, his migration was much more consequential and courageous than mine, which required little in the way of repudiating publicly-taken stands, cost me only one or two high school friends, and demanded only that I let my dad tell me "I told you so."
One thing that hasn’t changed about Horowitz is the take-no-prisoners style he honed in the 60s, now deployed over at Front Page Magazine and on behalf of the Academic Bill of Rights. It was on display over at MSNBC’s Scarborough Country this past week, where he claimed that there were "thousands" of Ward Churchills on college campuses across the country. Now, I’d be the last person to say that political discourse on college campuses isn’t skewed to the left and that there are not more Wards than Winstons to be found behind the lecterns in the ivy-covered halls. But Horowitzian hyperbole invites this sort of response from a prominent liberal political theorist:
SCARBOROUGH: He says there‘s not. But let me say this, though. I mean, last year, two professors did a large-scale survey of American professors and how they vote. Politically, this is what they found.
Anthropology professors vote Democratic by 30-1, sociology professors 28-1, political science professors 6-1. And on average, professors vote Democratic 15-1.
I suppose Scarborough’s "let me say this, though" acknowledges that he’s changing the subject. It would be hard to say with a straight face that the evidence of lopsided party membership — and I’ve already insisted that universities should be more diverse — supports the claim that there are thousands of Ward Churchills. Or even 1,000. Before Scarborough produced that data, Horowitz had suggested a link:
HOROWITZ: ... It‘s a well-known principle of group psychology that, if you fill a room with like-minded people, the center of the room is going to move to the extreme. Our faculties are 90 percent to 95 percent people of the left, so, of course, you are going to get a lot of Ward Churchills as a result.
His "a lot" quickly followed his "thousands." I doubt the "well-known principle" generates thousands of Churchills. I doubt it partly for empirical reasons: I don’t know any, and I’ve been in universities for decades. No, don’t try suggesting that I wouldn’t even notice. And I doubt it partly because it’s very hard to imagine the effect could be so extreme. Does your church generate martyrs and saints?
(I’ll let the last sentence go, for the moment, though there are plenty of
contemporary martyrs and "sainthood" may not have to be conferred by the Roman Catholic Church.)
The point is that Horowitz’s extreme claims are easy for academics to dismiss. As Don Herzog (the theorist I quoted above) points out, Horowitz is really not talking to those of us inside the academy, but uses his inflammatory rhetoric to mobilize external constituencies, like state legislators. Now, Horowitz insists that if universities regulate themselves, he’ll back off:
Look, the bill is necessary. The legislatures are necessary because the other side, as represented by Mr. Bowen [Roger Bowen, of the AAUP] and by these university presidents, will not even acknowledge that there‘s a problem until they have a hammer over them. The minute they recognize that and take steps to reform their institutions, we will withdraw the legislation.
What troubles me about the entire undertaking is what remains of Horowitz’s 60s-era political sensibilities, that politics is everything and that it essentially determines the way faculty approach their classrooms and their students. If that’s true, then the only way to achieve "balance" on campus is to engage in "affirmative action" for conservatives or conservative viewpoints. But what if what we’re trying to accomplish is not so much equal ideological representation as a return to fair-mindedness? Horowitz’s willingness to turn up the heat doesn’t get us there, because it essentially concedes that ideology is everything, which means that there’s no possibility of genuine intellectual community, no possibility (ultimately) of genuine rational discourse, and hence, in the end, no real univers[al]ity. If Horowitz is right, we will have met the enemy and found that they are us.