From the Department of Gross Generalizations:
The quality that distinguishes college professors from the rest of Americans is not their intelligence or their liberal politics or their bad taste in clothes---or the way they often overcompensate for their colleagues' bad taste in clothes. Hello, Professor Berube!
(Note: I had to swipe this photo off Roxanne's site. Michael has put up a new picture of himself that de-emphasizes his receeding hairline but at the expense of also downplaying his Left Bank Intellectual/New Wave Film Director/Euro-nihlist studliness.)
Nope, the quality that makes them not just different from most Americans but makes them practically Martians among us is their bookishness.
College professors read a lot. A lot. They read a lot compared to people who read a lot. And when you get right down to it, the reason they became college professors in the first place was so they could get paid to read.
Another way of saying this is that early in life they found a subject that fascinated them and resolved to spend their lives studying it in the hope of learning everything there is to know about it.
But to do that they have had to read.
And this bookishness goes a long way toward explaining why college professors are overwhelmingly liberal and even Liberal and even Leftist.
College professors are liberal because they are bookworms. Conservatives aren't bookworms.
The recent return to the forefront of the culture war---which should be called the Right Wing War on Culture--- of the "argument" over why there aren't more conservatives on college faculties is depressing in too many ways for me to get into deeply.
For two decades now David Horowitz has been pushing the idea that colleges and universities actively discriminate against conservatives, as though taxis all over America were being driven by and bookstores up and down both coasts were staffed by conservative ABDs and Ph.Ds who just couldn't find work in their fields because of their politics.
Horowitz is a bomb thrower. He was a bomb thrower when he was a leftist and he's a bomb thrower now that he's a neo-fascist. He was of the Left because at that time that was the best direction from which to throw bombs, and he's on the Right now because the Right provides an even better launching pad and pays for his bombs and provides him with fur-lined foxholes with comped mini-bars.
When he threw bombs with his left hand he aimed them at academia, and now that he's chucking with his right is target hasn't changed.
He's a destructive, vindictive, and perverse little brat who just wants to blow things up out of spite.
But he's managed to get his personal vendetta into the mainstream. So we're all asking and trying to answer a stupid question with an obvious answer.
There are fewer conservatives seeking to be college professors not because liberal administrators won't hire them but because conservatives take themselves out of the job market pretty early in their lives.
We are, of course, talking mainly about professors in the humanities, because that's the only way this debate works. If we include professors from the business schools and the engineering schools and the physical education departments, and probably the med schools, nursing schools, schools of criminal jurisprudence, then a whole lot more conservatives suddenly appear on the quad and there isn't anything to talk about.
But professors in the humanities really are much more liberal than most Americans.
So we pretend that the only college professors in existence teach comparative lit and queer studies.
Those professors tend to be liberals.
And again I say it's because they are far more bookish than most Americans.
Ezra argues that this bookishness makes them far more critical thinkers and thus less inclined to accept the status quo, thus leading to their liberalism. Plausible, but that's not what I mean.
I mean that if you are a bookish little kid the odds are that you are already not a conservative.
Your books might teach you that you are correct in not being a conservative or at least not foolish for not being one, but basically if you had conservative leanings you wouldn't be holed up in your room with your books, you'd be outside playing football or learning how to cheerlead with the conservative kids.
Or, to turn this around: if you are a little kid who can play football and lead cheers and take part in all the other reindeer games you probably aren't a reader, or a dreamer, or much of a thinker, because you don't have time to be and you're having too much fun not reading, not dreaming, and not thinking. Not doing that stuff makes it much less likely that you will grow up to be a college professor.
It also makes it much more likely you will be a conservative.
After all, what are conservatives?
Conservatives---and I mean people who are conservative by nature, not the crowd in Washington calling themselves conservative, who are in fact only reactionary opportunists drunk with power; and not the Right Wing Christians who call themselves conservative but who are in fact ultra-reactionaries at war with the 21st century---Conservatives are people who have an abiding interest in maintaining the status quo.
Conservatives like things the way they are, just fine, thank you. Mainly because the way things are makes them happy, healthy, safe, and financially secure.
Of course there are lots of liberals who do not read much and think even less.
And there are lots of conservatives who are voracious readers and serious thinkers.
And lots of little liberal boys could hit a curve ball and sink the outside shot. Lots of liberal girls were beautiful and popular and made the cheerleading squad and were voted homecoming queen. Lots of conservative kids were fat little dweebs with thick glasses who tripped over their own feet and couldn't get a date to the prom and lusted secretly after the star quarterback (boys and girls) and many of them are now posting regularly on Powerline and the Corner, still unable to get dates and still secretly lusting after the star quarterback (men and women) except that they call it supporting the troops.
But mainly if you weren't a bookish little kid and you fit in with the crowd you very likely grew up to be conservative because the world was your oyster and you don't want that to change.
Bookishness can lead to being disenchanted with Society as it stands. Being disenchanted with Society as it stands can lead to bookishness. Bookishness is not necessarily a sign of a liberal temperament nor does being bookish inevitably and inexorably turn you liberal. A lot of conservative kids are driven into books in college because they are disenchanted with the microculture they find themselves in and they don't come out of the library more liberal than they went in.
But you can't be a college professor---in the humanities---if you aren't bookish. And if all the other factors that tend to produce a conservative kid are at work producing that conservative kid then that kid will tend not to be bookish.
Intellectuals on the Right and the Left flatter themselves that they came by their political opinions after long, careful study and hours and hours of deep thought and self-questioning.
Really, though, what happens is that they've spent a lot of time finding intellectual justification for feelings they've had since they were very young and for political leanings that they've adopted out of combinations of self-interest and temperamental attraction.
George Will, only half-jokingly, claims he's a conservative because he's a Cubs fan. The Cubs habit of losing taught him that life is sorrow, that there is no point in waiting till next year, because next year the Cubbies will be even worse, and therefore that which is crooked can never be made straight and the race is not to the swiftest and even when the Cubs are 9 games up going into August upstart teams from New York City will somehow catch them, pass them, and win the pennant and young George learned at a very young age that no governmental interference can change any of that.
Something like that.
But the truth is more likely that the reason he persisted in being a Cubs fan, when the temptation to switch his allegience to the winning St Louis Cardinals was great, and the reason he became a conservative were the same---a stubborn quirk in his character that made him enjoy being on the losing side. You ever notice, Will is a much more sensible and coherent thinker and a happier fellow when the Democrats are riding high?
We aren't fated to certain jobs. A mechanical aptitude and a love of cars might mean you'll grow up to work in a garage or it might mean you'll tinker on old Edsels in your spare time as way to relax after a hard day on the trading floor.
But we are limited by our talents, our temperaments, and our interests. Not in a bad way, just in a natural way.
We are also limited, often in a bad way, but still in a natural way, by our envirnonment and backgrounds. Pity the child of a stockbroker who wants to work in a garage.
Or the child of a liberal academic who wants to join the Marines.
Although the second kid has a better shot at living out his dreams.
Liberals are liberal, after all. They believe in individuals being allowed to be who they want to be, while Conservatives believe that order, traditions, and family heritages should not be upset.
Conservatives tend to pass along traditions of respecting hierarchies and rising in those hierarchies and that this is accomplished best by aquiring and increasing wealth.
This used to be called the Protestant Work Ethic.
Some liberals like to call it being a greedhead, because it does encourage greediness in the greedily inclined, but more because it makes liberals feel better about having chosen careers based on love and inclination and finding out later that there's no money in it.
Whatever you call it, having been raised with it, you will be discouraged from joining a college faculty because professors make no money and very few of them achieve anything like status.
The money probably has a lot to do with it. Avedon Carol thinks it has more to do with the low grade quality of right wing thought. But as PZ Myers points out, if you're a conservative intellectual, or even and especially a psuedo-intellectual, the Right Wing think tanks can pay you a whole lot more than any small liberal arts college.
If Horowitz and his fellow firebrands were serious about increasing the number of conservatives on college faculties they would push for dramatic pay hikes for professors.
But Horowitz isn't really trying to do that. He would despise all the new conservative college professors as much as he hates the liberal ones already on the job.
What he wants to do is terrorize the universities into self-censorship, timidity, intellectual cowardice, and finally irrelevence.
The attack is not on univeristies or on professors. It's on Reason itself.
The Right hates it.
They despise intelligence and bookishness and thought itself.
Look at how they are now treating conservative judges.
Anti-intellectualism is an old American tradition. It's an old human one. ("The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.") But the Right has made it one of their prime directives for at least 50 years now.
The effect is not just to discourage bookish young conservatives from becoming college professors. It discourages bookish young conservatives from thinking they are conservative.
Because if you love books, you will probably not think that your self-interest is best served by joining the side that wants to burn them, ban them, and put stickers on them that say that what's inside them is not to be believed.*
(Something like a footnote: Jonathan Chait has made this point and many of my other points more succinctly. Via Brad DeLong.)