Sunday, October 14, 2007


Via Brad DeLong, Bruce Bartlett said:
Under the best of circumstances, getting a tenured position at an elite university is very hard. Because you can't get rid of someone with tenure and may be stuck with them as a colleague for decades, it stands to reason that the process of choosing someone for such a position is going to be very intense. For the same reason, the choice is not entirely meritocratic--elite universities don't choose the best scholars as professors any more than they choose the best applicants as students. There are a lot of factors that go into a hiring decision that don't favor conservatives and go beyond simple ideology.

Just to mention one area, conservatives have a tendency to choose sub-disciplines within academic fields that are not very fashionable. For example, in political science, conservatives tend to gravitate toward political theory--a field that has been out of fashion since at least the 1960s. In history, conservatives often excel at military and diplomatic history--again, fields that have been out of fashion for decades.

One of the basic elements of liberalism is a greater affinity for things that are new and trendy. For conservatives, it is the opposite--an affinity for the familiar, the tried and true. This means that conservatives are always going to be behind the curve in any field where changing fashion is a key to advancement.


even setting aside the "out of fashion" part:

While there has been a steady flow of people who are in some sense conservative into political theory thanks to the existence of Straussianism, the subfield is no great magnet for conservatives. Impressionistically I'd say that, of the small number of (even-loosely-described) conservatives who enter political science, a large proportion end up in international relations, a somewhat smaller proportion in formal modelling/ institutions/ American politics.

Indeed, it's an often-discussed pedagogical problem that we have so little conservative political theory to match with liberal, libertarian, socialist, democratic, feminist, and multiculturalist theory on syllabi. One of the big themes of the ASPLP conference on "American Conservative Thought and Politics" in January was, "Why so little explicitly conservative political theory?"

Nor is it remotely the case that political theory, for all its affinity with great books programs, is immune to faddishness, fashion, or trendiness!

I can't imagine what Bartlett means by this.