The Uneasy Case for Intellectual Diversity

By Paulsen, Michael Stokes | Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview
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The Uneasy Case for Intellectual Diversity


Paulsen, Michael Stokes, Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy


Wouldn't it be ironic if, at an academic conference on "intellectual diversity," everybody thought and said pretty much the same things?

I suspect that the near-universal consensus view on the value of intellectual diversity in law school faculties runs along the lines of the following: In an academic institution, and especially in a law school, intellectual diversity--diversity of views and values, diversity of opinions expressed and discussed, diversity of approaches--is a value of paramount importance. Without true intellectual diversity, there can be a stifling uniformity of thought that is antithetical to the very idea of a university. Without intellectual diversity, ideas cannot be tested in the crucible of committed opposition; theories suffer from the brittleness of not being tested; positions become flaccid and flabby because they are unexercised by the intellectual workout of contending with thoughtful, rigorous dissent. Especially for a field like law, which in the Anglo-American tradition is virtually defined by the adversary method--the proposition that truth emerges best from the clash of vigorous, committed opposing viewpoints--diversity of intellectual perspective is an essential feature of education and training. Lack of intellectual diversity harms students. They suffer in their educations by not being exposed to, and challenged by, competing views. They cease to think. They become lobotomized automatons, consuming a steady diet of uniform thought--thought that, because of its own flabbiness, has ceased to be thought at all. Minority views within the student body--the perspective of the not-fully-indoctrinated remnant, the resistance--are suppressed almost casually. Those holding non-conforming views become discouraged, repressed. Eventually, they give up.

And a final piece of the standard consensus: There is rampant hypocrisy about "intellectual diversity" among the very academics who, usually, embrace it so enthusiastically. They do not practice what they preach. Professors champion the abstract value of intellectual diversity at the same time that they seek to clone themselves in faculty hiring processes, and resist competing ideas in the classroom or the faculty lounge. Whatever they say, professors mostly want colleagues who think along the same lines as they do and who support their premises and worldviews. The result, where intellectual diversity does not prevail is that academia becomes intellectually skewed, decisively, in favor of one particular cluster of ideological commitments. Today, that orthodoxy is modern left-liberalism.

So goes the prevailing consensus. And there is, of course, much truth to it--much truth. There is often good reason why a prevailing consensus is a prevailing consensus, and the consensus sketched above exists for good reason. Intellectual diversity is a good and useful thing. Its absence is a notable characteristic of weak scholarly communities, making for weaker scholarship and for relatively impoverished teaching and learning. Everyone in the prevailing Academic Orthodoxy favors intellectual diversity, in theory, but fights it in practice.

But might I be allowed to offer a mildly dissenting view, at least for the sake of argument (and "intellectual diversity")? Might I suggest that intellectual diversity in legal academia is an overrated commodity? That it is overvalued in theory as well as undervalued in practice? Might I suggest that the value of intellectual diversity is distinctly secondary and instrumental? That intellectual rigor and quality, and the search for intellectual "Truth," (with a capital T) are the true prime values, and that these values are not necessarily furthered by the quest for "diverse views," simpliciter, but flow more reliably from other academic values, virtues, and attributes? And that the primary value of the argument for intellectual diversity, today, is that it serves as a good and effective rhetorical trope with which to bludgeon the currently entrenched Illiberal Academic Orthodox Establishment in the terms of a value they pretend to embrace?

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