The Right Coast

March 02, 2004
Crooked Timber on me
By Tom Smith

Well, I seem to have inspired John Holbo to write another one of his very long posts. Whether I am to be held culpable for this, you will have to judge for yourself. I should correct a few misimpressions I may have inadvertently caused. In my little tragedy, gosh, nearly some twenty years ago now, I just got the bad news indirectly through Charles Wright. I got the impression he was just making a judgment about the political climate at Texas some twenty years ago, not that he personally had anything against conservatives. Since then, I was invited to be a visiting professor at Texas, or at least asked if I would like to be one, to which I had to answer "no" as I am not enough of a pig to abandon my wife to her busy medical practice and scads of youn'ins for mere reasons of career advancement. And I was asked to visit at Penn some years ago, I did visit at UCLA, I received an offer of a very well remunerating chair at Ohio State, and my dean smiles at me most of the time when he sees me. So, all in all, I don't really bear much of grudge toward anybody any more, not even Texas, as they have in recent times at least been willing to take a hard look at me. Also, I get what I consider well paid to teach bright and nice students mostly interesting stuff. Being a law professor is swell, a very good gig and I'm not complaining. I would still rather be an internet billionaire, but maybe this is the best of all possible worlds.

As to Professor Holbo's other arguments, if that's what they are, I am at a bit of a loss how to respond. I feel as if I am being attacked by a strangely animated feather boa trying make me sneeze myself to death. But OK, let me make some counter-assertions that might at least put any argument worth having on a better footing. First, I think it's fine if liberals as a general matter don't like conservatives personally. It's a free country and their loss. Second, while discriminating against conservatives in academic hiring is a small unfairness in the grand scheme of things, it is as wrong morally as other kinds of discrimination that are illegal and widely considered wrong, such as job discrimination on the basis of religion, race or irrelevant physical disability. Third, the production of ideas benefits from competition just as the production of other goods does. At the same time, there is the constant danger that producers will try to impose a monopoly for their own, as opposed to consumers' benefit. That is what has happened, I think, in many areas of the academy. Life is easier if you don't have to defend your ideas constantly. Academic life would produce more of the public goods that it is its job to provide, if conservatives (using the term broadly) were not excluded from areas of academic life. A closely related point is that liberals or conservatives, left to argue only among themselves, get boring. (I realize this is a straight line, but the point merits the risk.) Finally, just as a rhetorical stratagem, I would ask anybody who has an open mind on this subject (and the time and interest) to read Professor Holbo's post. Frankly, it seems to me any person, liberal or otherwise, who has a well-rooted sense of fairness in their personality would be embarrassed by it. But maybe I overestimate liberals. We all know what crooked timber we are made out of.