Classes on Conservatism

Any interesting, balanced look at the lack of basic conservative study in most university political science programs.

Says Berkowitz, “Without an introduction to the conservative tradition in America and the conservative dimensions of modern political philosophy, political science students are condemned to a substantially incomplete and seriously unbalanced knowledge of their subject. Courses on this tradition should be mandatory for students of politics; today they are not even an option at most American universities.”

He continues, “Incorporating courses on conservatism in the curriculum may, as students graduate, disperse, and pursue their lives, yield the political benefit of an increase in mutual understanding between left and right. In this way, reforming the curriculum could diminish the polarization that afflicts our political and intellectual classes. But that benefit is admittedly distant and speculative.”

I’d speculate that the further away one gets from university years, most of us who wandered through a university undergraduate education in the political sciences begin to finally realize what it actually lacked.

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5 comments

  1. Do we get a class on the basic theory of liberalism because frankly, I don’t buy the argument that all of our classes are courses in liberal theory. If you students to have a basic grasp of the basic ideas of conservatism, require all political science students to take introductory economics. Actually, wait, we should do that anyway.

  2. I completely agree re: teaching basic theory of liberalism. Actually, the article says the same thing, I just didn’t paste that part here.

    I am not one who decries the fact that students are brainwashed into certain liberal views. They are simply more liberal, regardless of the teachings of political science courses in college.

    However, I endorsed this approach mostly on the premise that 99% of people with an undergraduate degree believe “conservatism” is one of two things: (1)Whatever the Republican Party happens to do at any one point, or (2)A belief that nothing about anything should ever change at any time.

    Conservatism is neither of those things.

    Most people, in general, have a better understanding about what liberalism means than conservatism. I think it is because conservatism is more nuanced and skeptical. That is why I think a better enunciation of conservatism would be helpful in university. That better balance would be helpful not because it will make more people conservative, but because it will at least provide a more respectable challenge to liberal thoughts on any given subject. The more honest debate (even if the outcome is still “liberal”), the better off we all are.

  3. I generally agree with what you are saying here. The only caveat I’d suggest is that the liberal-conservative paradigm is a false one. Classic conceptions of both American Liberalism and American Conservatism to me are more defined by social issues than the underlying argument over the scope of the federal government. Indeed the right to privacy mentality often attributed to liberals and the bible thumping stereotype of social conservatives often run counter to the respective governance values of both.

    To me the current intellectual dynamic, running free from Democrat vs Republican battle, is so called Progressivism vs. Conservatism or even Libertarianism. Theoretically, Progressivism takes a more pragmatic approach to the economic realities of a situation, where as Liberalism tends to assert a series of values regardless of their effect on the system overall.

    At that level Progressivism and Libertarianism are inverses of one another, assuming support for the very existence of the Federal government, the devil being in the details of its reach.

    So, yes, I’d love there to be more in depth education of the different approaches. I just don’t want it to get bogged down in qualifications based on the mob-ruled party system.

  4. Great distinction and nuance to this line of thinking. You’re right, the liberal v. conservative line is quite silly, and anyone (including myself) who falls into the trap is too sloppy.

    Though, I’m not yet sure I understand the difference between that distinction and the one you propose- substituting progressivism with liberalism. Could you expand on your vision of “Progressivism?” I do not ask this as a challenge but a legitimate inquiry. I have yet to hear any real articulation of the difference, except with “progressive” being a Frank Luntz-esque polling word to dull the sting previously attached to “liberal.”

    In reality, I suppose the entire thing may be academic alone and practically worthless. Trying to actually define any of these terms is impossible to perfect. I’ve yet to read a better recent summation of the Conservatism than Sullivan’s “The Conservative Soul.” But even there his enunciation is by no means universally accepted.

  5. Sorry about the delay, I didn’t affirm the notification tab when I commented. I just saw your response.

    You are right in one sense that the term “Progressive” has been appropriated (or misappropriated) as a replacement for the term Liberal. As I stated in my first comment, however, my viewpoint is that the current iteration of the Liberal/Conservative conflict is based more in social issues than in those pertaining to fiscal, economic, or federal role issues.

    Progressivism, as I have always understood it, governs from the center-left. One area that specifically differs with the classic sense of Liberalism was a more open view toward the free market-based economy. Progressivism suggests minimal but sufficient regulation, as opposed to Liberals’ sometimes knee-jerk populist punishment of business. I think the major distinction lies in the idea that the self-interest inherent in the private sector fails to provide for some needs deemed important, for example universal health coverage. Therefore, the idea of government provided institutions to fill that gap is applied.

    Ultimately, you are correct that these distinctions are largely academic. I do think it is important, however, to make those distinctions, lest we demonize everyone on the opposite end of the spectrum. Case in point, in my original comment when describing Libertarianism, I had to throw the caveat of “assuming support for the very existence of the Federal government” because without such distinction, often the hyperbolic ends of the spectrum are assumed to be representative of the whole.

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