Friday, January 09, 2009

Horowitz at the MLA

Anyone remember the "culture wars"? Now that we've got all this change we can believe in, people don't talk about them very much anymore, but the battle is far from over. One of the leading soldiers on the conservative side for years has been David Horowitz, who has a blog here and a "Freedom Center" here, and who is author of The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. Horowitz founded the activist group Students for Academic Freedom, a group that (somewhat disingenuously) claims that "you can't get a good education if they're only telling you half the story" and works tirelessly against the supposed "liberal bias" in higher education. Horowitz and his supporters advocate a terribly misnamed platform they call "Academic Freedom", a freedom allegedly secured by their proposed "Academic Bill of Rights," which has been the subject of much heated debate over the years. It also has been the catalyst for websites like this, which encourages students to "report" professors who they deem to be (liberally) partisan.

For those of you reading this who have never heard of Horowitz or the Academic Freedom movement, a word of caution: One of the more complicated issues surrounding this campaign is the gross disparity between the ideal being ostensibly advocated ("academic freedom") and the practical implementation of that advocacy (which is largely directed at purging the Academy of "liberals"). Not surprisingly, the Modern Languages Association (MLA) constituency has been the prime target of Horowitz's movement for many, many years. The MLA is the professional organization for English profs, Lit-Crit profs, Comp Lit profs, and the like. Many spirited, sometimes ugly, volleys have been launched between Horowitz and the MLA over the years, and its safe to say, I think, that there is no love lost between them.

So, it was surprising to read in the recent Chronicle of Higher Education article "Impasse at the MLA" that Horowitz appeared on a panel at the organization's conference last month. Reportedly, there were security guards present and strict time limits enforced for speakers (12 minutes for comments, 30 seconds for questions). Really, security guards! (Does the APA even have security guards?) I suppose for non-academics, this probably sounds comic, but I'm confident that no one at the MLA was laughing. Acording to the article, some audience members directed their frustration not at Horowitz directly, but at the MLA for inviting him. But, of course, many did direct their frustration at Horowitz directly, including one who gave him the finger and another who sat and "repeatedly mouthed an obscenity" at Horowitz. 'Cause that's how they roll in the MLA.

This story has me wondering whether or not there is anyone that the American Philosophical Association (APA) could invite to its conference who would inspire the same sort of response that Horowitz did? The only person that comes to mind immediately is Donald Rumsfeld, originator of the (in)famous epistemological speculation: "Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know." I'm open to your nominations for other candidates, though.


Bryan said...

Thank you. I was very interested in hearing someone that I respect (someone being Doc Johnson) critique Horowitz. I would love to hear more of your opinions on him, and I'm sure you have some. I try to be open to the idea that there are sane conservatives. Surprisingly one of the least insane (in my moderately ignorant opinion), is Mickey Edwards author of “Reclaiming Conservatism: How a Great American Political Movement Got Lost--And How It Can Find Its Way Back”. I haven't read it yet, but an NPR interview with him made me think that he may be worth reading since he calls most of the modern conservative icons (Rush, Coulter, and George) idiots. However, his claim that the Regan political movement was “great” is hard to swallow.

anotherpanacea said...

I hope there's no one with this status in philosophy. Horowitz himself could give a talk at the APA and be met with only a litany of the fallacies in which he traffics. I'd venture that people don't accuse philosophers of bias the way they do others in the humanities because philosophers have a tendency to want to 'teach the controversy.'

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