Sunday, January 23, 2011

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Today I've got into a discussion with an Associate Professor in the History Department at Colorado State University, HistoryAnn. On her blog, she shared her outrage that a former republican congresswoman Heather Wilson expressed doubts about the quality of American higher education. The essence of HistoryAnn's disagreement was quite obvious - surely this republican is a blind ideologue, and her views should be ignored. What caught my attention was the following passage, which revealed quite a lot about HistoryAnn. Quite a lot, I must add.

I’ve always thought that there was a very straightforward reason for why university faculty and other highly educated people tend not to support Republican ideas: the more you know about the world, the dumber they seem. There’s no conspiracy at universities against conservative ideas–indeed, even Marxist Feminists like me teach about very conservative ideas all the time: patriarchy, hierarchy, Thomas Hobbes, the Divine Right of Kings, nineteenth century proslavery ideology, anti-women’s suffrage, anti-unionism, anti-communism, Father Coughlin, the John Birch Society, Impeach Earl Warren bumper stickers, “free market” ideology, and the like. And you know what happens? When students read the primary sources laying out these ideas, they usually see them for what they are: brutally, coarsely self-interested, unfair, and un-American.

I've wrote a letter to historyAnn, expressing my utter puzzlement with her rather arbitrary decision to describe a wide range of very contradictory ideas as "conservatism". We quickly got into a sparring match, and it seems like your own blogger, Hyphenated American, is now listed as a "person of interest". My latest entry was not published, and "is awaiting moderation". Here is what I wrote - luckily I was able to save my last message to the Marxist Feminist Ann (I am not sure if it will be published or not):

I guess our discussion is getting too long, and indeed it is your blog, and you can do whatever you want with it. Sorry for bothering you.

What upsets me most is that liberals very often flat out refuse to debate the pros and cons of conservative ideology, and instead prefer to fight with the straw men.

Instead of listening to honest critique of conservatism, we hear denouncements of wacky ideas of the past, which have no connection to conservatism. Just as you called pro-slavery movement “conservatism”, I can say that naziism and communism and benladeism are part of the history of liberalism. I know world history pretty damn well to make whole lot of factual connections, and we can play this game non-stop. But then – does it REALLY help you to understand the ideas that I believe in? Does it REALLY make you confident that you are correct, and I am wrong (let alone dumb and evil and un-American)? And honestly, between you and me, I need to tell you that if you truly were convinced that American conservatism is wrong, you would have debated it head on, instead of indulging in criticism of evil ideas of the past, ideas which have nothing, absolutely nothing in common with American conservatism. I don’t know if it is patriotic or not to abandon the straw men (I am a bit idiosyncratic of the word “patriotic” for the reasons we don’t have to discuss now), but it surely is intellectually honest to do so. But then – who cares, really, we all will be dead in 3 million years.

Anyway, here is the rub. On what basis did you decide that Father Coughlin, a revolutionary socialist, was a conservative? On what basis did you conclude that pro-slavery was part of conservatism? On what basis would you NOT qualify the 21st century movement to abolish social security, welfare, medicaid and medicare as non-conservative? And what about Hitler-Mussolini-Lenin-Stalin-Mao – these 5 were clearly revolutionaries – so are they conservatives or liberals? And if the popular point of view, a point of view which was dubbed “conservatism” some decades ago, is according to its very supporters, fundamentally, irreversibly, standing in defense of individual liberty, small limited government and justice – then why are you are discussing ideas which run contrary to the essence of American conservatism – and assume these two are identical?!

I understand why you believe that this discussion may seem to be only tangentially tied to the issue of Rhode scholarship. But in reality it is not – about 40% of what you wrote was devoted to the rather bizarre claim that conservatism is “brutally, coarsely self-interested, unfair, and un-American”. I assumed that you took some time to think it through, before accusing 30% of American population of being (let’s be honest here) dumb scumbags. Was I wrong?
Miss HistoryAnn clearly believes that "conservatism" is same as "status-quo-ism" - but does it make sense? And then - if someone is "fiscally conservative" - does it mean that he supports 1.5 trillion dollar annual deficits? And shouldn't defense of Roe vs Wade be called "conservatism"? Questions, questions...

P.S. Comrades, please, don't flood her blog with attacks. I still want to play there. Pretty please with sugar on top of it?
P.P.S. I am curious if I were to proclaim that "history of infection diseases" is the history of liberalism - would that be considered an intellectual argument by Ann?

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