Stanley Fish has just posted a blog about the president of the University of Colorado's plan to endow a "Chair in Conservative Thought and Policy." This is the usual nonsense: Republicans take themselves to have cornered the market on Conservatism, define any non-Republican as therefore a "Leftist," assemble some statistics showing a disproportionately low number of Republicans among the university faculty ranks, and draw the conclusion that the universities are in the grip of "Leftist" bias and so are in need of the kind of "balance" which could be provided only by mandating an increase in the presence of conservative viewpoints on campus.
The argument is a muddle for the simple fact that it confuses its categories. This confusion results from the need to map political ideology onto party affiliation. So, all of those who are not registered Republicans are taken to be therefore Democrats (rather than simply non-Republicans), and Democrats, since they are non-Conservatives, must be "Leftists." But all of this amounts to a Disneyland view of politics. Not all conservatives are Republicans; some conservatives are Democrats; some conservatives are Libertarians; some liberals are Libertarians; some Democrats are moderates and thus anti-Leftist; some Leftists are Socialists; and so on.
The logical error is so simple, I can't imagine how people so readily fall for it: Define a position, x, very narrowly and then compare the number of persons who hold x with the number of those who don't. X will come out in the minority every time. So, let's try this: Stipulate that a "Leftist" is someone who accepts Marx's historical materialism. Now go survey the professors at any university. The vast minority of them will turn out to be Leftists. So the university is disproportionately conservative! QED.
Sorry for the long post. As with everything that Fish writes, there's the good part and the crazy part, and I don't want to let the crazy part go unmentioned. Fish writes:
A classroom discussion of Herbert Marcuse and Leo Strauss, for example, does not (or at least should not) have the goal of determining whether the socialist or the conservative philosopher is right about how the body politic should be organized. Rather, the (academic) goal would be to describe the positions of the two theorists, compare them, note their place in the history of political thought, trace the influences that produced them and chart their own influence on subsequent thinkers in the tradition. And a discussion of this kind could be led and guided by an instructor of any political persuasion whatsoever, and it would make no difference given that the point of the exercise was not to decide a political question but to analyze it.
Apparently Fish thinks that every university should be a Great Books program: we "describe," "compare," and historically contextualize great thinkers, without trying to determine what is true. What nonsense! What, exactly, is it to "analyze" a political question but to try to figure out which position is right? Otherwise, why bother?