The Consequences of a Liberal Monoscape: A Review Essay

By Dilevko, Juris | Journal of Information Ethics, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

The Consequences of a Liberal Monoscape: A Review Essay


Dilevko, Juris, Journal of Information Ethics


The Consequences of a Liberal Monoscape: A Review Essay Tim Groseclose. Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind. New York: St. Martin's Press, 20ii. 292 pages. Hardcover. ISBN: 978-0-3i2-55593-i.

Neil Gross. Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 20i3. 393 pages. Hardcover. ISBN: 978-0-674-05909-2.

In i95i, William F. Buckley, Jr., who would found the journal National Review four years later and thereby solidify a reputation as one of the patron saints of American conservatism in the post-World War II era, first entered the national spotlight with the publication of God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of "Academic Freedom."i It would be an understatement to say that the book caused consternation. Only recently graduated from the august institution referred to in its title, Buckley undertook a detailed examination of the central hypocrisy by which he thought that Yale systematically inculcated an ethos of social and political liberalism in its students. The result was that students, no matter their true beliefs, left Yale with a single, narrow perspective on the world-a liberal outlook that they, mistakenly, took to be the common- sense way of approaching life. After all, how could they not feel that the liberal perspective was the sole correct one when it was promulgated by seemingly unassailable professorial authorities and when its premises undergirded nearly every course and textbook that they might be exposed to? And, given the likelihood that the educational experiences of Yale undergraduates in the years immedi- ately after World War II were similar to those of other university students because the same biased textbooks were being used nationwide (pp. 2i3-2i8), how could the liberalism embedded in college curricula fail to give rise to a powerful society-wide liberal consensus?2 Indeed, in the preface of The Liberal Imagination (i950), Lionel Trilling suggested that the liberal consensus was so pervasive that it had all but foreclosed the possibility of the development of a viable conservative philosophy. "In the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition," he wrote, insofar as "nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation," save for vague actions or "irritable mental gestures which seem to resemble ideas" (p. ix). The ethos of liberalism was ubiquitous; as per the title of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s influential i949 book, it was the "vital center" of American social and political life.

God and Man at Yale can be read as Buckley's explanation of how the liberal consensus of Trilling and Schlesinger originated. The key to the puzzle was American universities' embrace of academic freedom -a principle which, for all its high-flown idealism, is a ruse to justify the privilege of carefully chosen professors to express beliefs that purport to advance a field of study. While much lip service is given to the desire for diverse views among the professoriate, in reality few, if any, professors whose opinions jarringly differ from a delimited spectrum of culturally favored academic thinking on a given topic in a given time period could hope to be hired or retained (pp. i3i-i40). University departments could therefore boast that they uphold the right to free speech as conferred by academic freedom because they had already sifted out those individuals to whom they would have been uncomfortable granting that right in the first place. As Michel Foucault might say, departments had "normalized" their intellectual environment so as to better control it.

Thus, protected by the "sonorous pretensions" of academic freedom, there was, in economics, political science, and history courses and textbooks, a manifest preponderance of pro-Keynesian and pro-New Deal arguments in relation to the anti-collectivist theories of Friedrich A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and others. …

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