Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Kai Kassai, Berube!

Kai Kassai, Berube!

Some say intellectual standards have fallen. Michael Berube is a counterexample. Not even Matthew Yglesias has the skills at snark to make four people look as completely stupid in a short space as Michael Berube does--to David Horowitz, Alan Wolfe, Mark Judge, and Erin O'Connor--in three paragraphs.

Michael Berube writes, apropos of his book, What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?:

Le Blog Berube: Alan Wolfe writes that my arguments against David Horowitz “do not reassure” him:

It is instructive to learn that anthropology is not a discipline composed entirely of like-minded people because left-liberals do not always agree with poststructuralist Marxists, but this hardly addresses the widespread perception that cultural anthropology has little room for those who might believe that America’s presence in a third-world country might bring about some good....

[W]ho knows what Professor Wolfe was thinking...? Not me-—because, as it happens, my book never says anything about left-liberals and poststructuralist Marxists in anthropology departments. So when Professor Wolfe says “it is instructive to learn that anthropology is not a discipline composed entirely of like-minded people because left-liberals do not always agree with poststructuralist Marxists,” I have to imagine that he is thinking of some book other than mine in which it is instructive (though, finally, not reassuring) to learn this....

But some good might come of this little misunderstanding in the end, because from this point onward, whenever you run into someone saying,

Michael Bérubé says that there is no liberal bias on campus because the anthropology department includes left-liberals and poststructuralist Marxists, and therefore Michael Bérubé is either a knave or a gull

you’ll know they haven’t read the book!... For example... conservative writer Mark Judge, who writes:

Berube pointing to the “diversity” between left-liberals and poststructuralists [sic] Marxists isn’t exactly an advertisement for a comprehensive and diverse education....

And Judge’s review has been commended in turn by Erin O’Connor at ACTA Online, who [says]...

those with the most immediate cachet are not always those with the best arguments, and Berube doesn’t draw anywhere near as much thoughtful criticism as he might. An exception may be found in Mark Judge’s review of Alan Wolfe’s New York Times review of Berube’s book.... Defenders of the academic status quo don’t want to be argued with, and they go to great lengths to shut down such argument in advance. But that’s all the more reason for substantive debate....

Now, once upon a time, smart conservatives didn’t go around applauding the “thoughtful reviews” of people who hadn’t bothered to read the material ostensibly under review, while casting aspersions on “defenders of the academic status quo” who “go to great lengths to shut down such argument in advance.” I am deeply nostalgic for those days myself. Accordingly, I’m all for substantive debate; I second Professor O’Connor’s call for it, and I thank her for recommending my book to people who might disagree with some aspects of it. But I’ll say this much in advance—-if someone tries to give me a hard time for my defense of left-liberals and poststructuralist Marxists in anthropology departments, and my refusal even to entertain the possibility that these professors are shutting out the “America can bring about some good in third world countries” faction of job-seeking anthropology Ph.D.s, then I’m just going to keep quiet for a bit and wait for a substantive debate with someone who disagrees with arguments that I actually make.

No matter what your politics or your substantive commitments about education, you have to admire the technical skill with which Michael Berube eviscerates his victims without, apparently, sweating a drop. Now that's sprezzatura for you!

Once again: Kai Kassai, Berube!


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home