Exploring the Eclipse of Equality

Posts Tagged ‘Progressivism’

Correctness is in the Eye of the Beholder: What we really can and can’t say

In Culture, Domestic Politics, Media and Politics on April 28, 2010 at 10:52 pm

I had a fascinating experience tonight in which I did a radio show that was based on a paper I had written two years ago about professors and politics. The title of the paper was “Ascriptive Justice: The Prevalence, Distribution, and Consequences of Political Correctness in the Academy” and despite the seemingly reactionary title, this is probably my favorite piece among those I have written. The argument is ironic and the methods are complicated, but I put a lot into the article that still sits well with me.

The story behind the article is fairly complicated and I will not rehearse it here, but the gist is that I wrote this in anticipation of a volume that was to come out of the American Enterprise Institute called Reforming the Politically Correct University, based on a conference that was held there.

After having attended the conference (well perhaps really long before), I became suspicious about the use of this concept, Political Correctness. It seemed that panelists were using it willy-nilly to suit whatever attack on academic liberals they pleased. What appeared to unite the critics was a sense that a politics of difference or multiculturalism was driving university worldviews and corrupting scholarship, and this left them cold. Their arguments would blend appeals to the first amendment in which a scholar or activist might condemn university speech codes or discriminatory practices with the core theme of contempt for identity politics.  In response, I decided to use data from a survey I had produced on faculty attitudes and was able to show that PC was basically what I had surmised from my position in the audience and that its effects seemed much less pernicious than pessimistic views would attest.

In some way that I did not explore, a radio station in Minnesota became familiar with my paper and wanted to have me on to discuss political correctness in America more generally. The host was a very nice and competent woman Read the rest of this entry »

Of Blocks and Sidewalks: The prehistory of progressivism

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2010 at 9:16 am

This may be a suitable occasion to pick up on a conversation that we are currently having about the philosophical directions that should be followed for public policy. Not only is President Obama about to hold a fascinating health care summit to discuss what plans should be implemented to deal with the insurance gap, but also there have been fascinating riffs from Glenn Beck and John Stewart on political philosophies. Somehow the tragedy/comedy line from the 18th Brumaire comes to mind, but it isn’t really apt, although the Beck/Stewart version is likely to be more influential on public opinion. This got me thinking about how we ought to live and what makes life better for us.

One of the things that troubles me most about living in northern Virginia is the difficulty of enjoying a pedestrian culture. I don’t mean that I wish we are all more common than we currently are, but that we should walk. There is nothing novel in this observation and the various movements associated with Jane Jacobs’ “new urbanism” have made much progress of late. In order to walk though, you have to have sidewalks and it is often nice to have your city designed in such a way that grid-like patterns form blocks that can serve as unofficial social units.

I have thought about these ideas off and on for some time and on hearing the Beck/Stewart discussion, I began to think about how the fact that some places have sidewalks and others do not has something to do with political philosophy. What are these philosophies? I think of them as two simply conceived, but complexly articulated middle range narratives about political life. On the one hand you have classical liberalism and on the other you have progressive institutionalism. The first fits with liberal notions of individual freedom and limited state power, and the second fits with liberal notions of minimal interdependence and the public good.

As I recall my economics classes in high school, what always annoyed me were the materials that depicted cave men trading securities and the like. It always seemed so churlishly anachronistic. And yet, there was a theme there because many of these liberal ideas are quite august. For example have you read Pericles’ funeral oration recently? It sounds pretty contemporary and touches on our classical liberal themes.

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