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H-Diplo | ISSF :: Roundtable, Vol. I, No. 2 Roundtable on "Politics and Scholarship" Essay by Peter D. Feaver, Duke University Published by H-Diplo/ISSF on 1 June 2010 URL: http://www.h-net.org/~diplo/ISSF/roundtables/rt-1-2-feaver.html Roundtable Editor: Robert Jervis, Columbia University Christopher Ball, H-Diplo/ISSF Managing and Commissioning Editor Diane Labrosse, H-Diplo/ISSF Editor at Large George Fujii, Web and Production Editor Commissioned for H-Diplo/ISSF by Robert Jervis, Columbia University Do Political Views Shape Security Studies? An Underground Interview The Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) Project surveys of international relations scholars have documented the wide gap between the academy and the general public on a variety of dimensions, notably including political orientation.1 Whereas the American public tends to be spread across the partisan spectrum something like a normal distribution, and across the political spectrum with a marked skew to the right, the IR professoriate is skewed overwhelmingly in favor of the Democratic Party and dramatically to the left. How does this fact affect, if at all, the security studies scholarly enterprise? At the behest of Prof. Jervis, I ventured into the ideological underground and found a source who was willing to be interviewed and quoted, but only under the condition that she/he not be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject. Q: Do you confess to holding views that are unpopular and in the absurdist minority of your peers? A: I do. Q: Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Republican Party? A: Yes. Q: What gives? Were you mistreated as a child or are you simply stupid? A: Neither, so far as I can tell. Q: Why then are you so ideological? Why can't you simply be a seeker of the truth like all of your peers who hold fairly orthodox liberal/Democratic views? A: There is the rub. I do not consider myself to be ideological. I am primarily interested in logic and evidence and the pursuit of the truth, or as close an approximation thereto as we can get. Sometimes this leads me to conclusions at odds with the reigning orthodoxy. However, even so I am open to persuasion and argument and I sometimes come down in policy or theoretical debates on the side that is not "purely conservative." From my point of view, the chief difference between me and my peers is that I am more ideologically ecumenical, willing to embrace a conservative or a Republican position when it is the best supported one even though that is considered heterodox in the academy. From my vantage point, the majority position often turns out to be the more ideologically driven one. Q. Wait, do you seriously mean to imply that your views are just a series of rational, logical, objective assessments of a discrete array of issues and anyone who holds a different assessment – meaning the super-majority of your academic colleagues – are blinkered ideologists? A. When you put it that way, it doesn't sound quite right. I am sure the truth is more nuanced and complicated than that. For starters, I don't mean to suggest that ideology is always corrosive of rigorous thinking. If one defines ideology as a presumptive commitment to certain first principles which help inform (though not rigidly determine) how one thinks through issues, then I suppose we are all to a certain extent equally "ideological" – even or perhaps especially those who claim that they have no such principle-based points of departure. Q: So then is there any difference between you and your anti-conservative, anti-Republican colleagues beyond the possibly random fact that you take a different point of departure when you approach an issue? For that matter, why do you take that different point of departure? A: I think there is one big difference between me and many though by no means all of them, and it speaks directly to your other question: I am less hostile to conservative/Republican insights because I have been exposed to many bright, thoughtful, considerate, expert, and a bunch more positive adjectives-type people who also happen to be conservatives/Republicans. Many of my colleagues have no close personal conservative/Republican friends who pass a basic smell test (except me, of course, and who knows, perhaps they think I fail the smell test). They either have no conservative/Republican friends at all, or only know people who seem to be applying for a central casting call for your basic conservative cartoon caricature. As a consequence, it seems natural for them to dismiss conservative/Republican ideas. By contrast, my personal Rolodex brims with winsome figures at every point along the ideological spectrum. Q: How does that affect you? A: Someone like me, an academic who is pigeon-holed as a conservative and a Republican, is like a bilingualist. Of necessity, I can converse comfortably in the academic world where the debates are all truncated on the left-wing of the American political spectrum. But I can also converse comfortably in the broader American political spectrum where conservatives outnumber liberals by a 2-1 ratio. A conservative academic is less likely to be blinded by the caricatures that cloud the vision of so many otherwise bright people, whether they are caricatures about conservatives or about liberals. Q: Are you mad? Are you brandishing this "scarlet C" like it was an advantage instead of being rightly ashamed of it? A: Well, my peers do consider it a deformity, something like an intellectual disability, but I rather think it gives me an advantage. My colleagues who stick to an anti-conservative orthodoxy can have remarkably nuanced views, seeing an issue in various shades of black, white, and grey. But they are still limited by that black-white spectrum. By contrast, I have access to the rest of the color spectrum, even the reds and the various shades of red that are visible to the millions of Americans who end up doing things that mystify my colleagues – things like voting for President Bush or Senator McCain, or even more perplexing things like thinking that Governor Palin made a few good points. Q: Does it affect your scholarship? A: Perhaps. I think I can see interesting research questions in the penumbra that my colleagues miss. For instance, I remember reading a serious paper by very distinguished scholars, the gist of which was that Republicans play politics with national security for partisan ends whereas Democrats are only interested in finding the national security policy that best serves the public good. This argument was presented without irony; it was quite serious and if I recall correctly was even validated with a formal model. While it may have helped illuminate some Republican chicanery, to my eyes it rather ignored an important an interesting zone of inquiry: the ways in which Democrats play politics with national security for partisan ends. Q: Well, that is probably an outlier. This can't happen very often, can it? A: Actually, it is quite prevalent. I have sat through dozens of talks that contained howlers of opinion and sometimes even of fact but that go unremarked upon by the audience because they simply confirm established prejudices. I notice them not because I am smarter or more knowledgeable than my colleagues. Rather, I notice them because I do not share their prejudgments and so I am not subject to the confirmation bias of finding inherently plausible any statement that confirms our shared prior and inherently implausible any statement that disconfirms it. Q: Surely you are not claiming that liberals and Democrats are prone to cognitive traps but conservatives and Republicans, or at least conservatives and Republicans who are academics, are not? A: No. I am sure there are examples of ideologically motivated misperceptions by conservative academics, maybe even some by me. But the structure of the academic marketplace of ideas militates against it and helps make that a more rare occurrence. If one is open to conservative or Republican notions and one is also a successful academic, than one has had to survive a Darwinian process that is optimized to find and punish your mistakes. The system is far more benign to liberal or Democratic mistakes and so they can survive and even thrive more easily. Consider this: I have brought scores of speakers to my campus over the years and I make a point of inviting an ideologically diverse roster. When I bring liberal and far-left speakers, no conservatives complain to me; when I bring conservatives, frequently I will get complaints and demands that the speaker be publicly denounced (preferably, during the introduction). It is hard to avoid the obvious inference: conservatives/Republicans expect their ideas to be challenged in the academy but many liberals/Democrats do not, or at least express greater dismay when they are challenged from the right. Q: Does being in the minority ever annoy you? A: Yes, some aspects of this minority status are annoying. For instance, it is annoying that my peers presume that I "have an ideology" whereas they do not. It is very reminiscent of African-Americans in the academy several decades ago; they were presumed to have "race" and "racially tinged views" whereas Caucasians did not. For that matter, the racial analogy suggests another curious burden: being assigned the role of token on panels. Some of my peers believe that a balanced panel on foreign policy is one that has a critique of Democrats from the left along with two shades of Democratic perspective, say center-left and center. However, most recognize that it would be better if they could find just one person, me, to offer the "whacky conservative view" – here they hope I will represent not just my own actual views but also cover, or be held responsible for, everything to the right. And this leads to my biggest gripe: feeling obligated to defend, or at least explain, the position of anyone to the right of Joe Biden, because if I don't then no one will. Because liberals do not have a monopoly on nonsense, there is plenty of bone-headedness from conservatives and Republicans for my colleagues to highlight and go after. Often the attacks are legitimate and fair, but when they cross over into caricature and canard I am left with a tough choice: do I inject a clarification or do I let it pass? Q: Is this a serious problem? A: Well, as global problems go, the ideological skew in the academy is probably not a Tier 1 concern. Compared with the policy problems that I and my colleagues study – the causes of war, the conditions for peace, the wielding of coercive power, and so on – the relative susceptibility of my peers to cognitive traps is small beer. On the other hand, it is an unfortunate problem to have in a profession that has the unfettered pursuit of knowledge as its core value. Q: So what can be done? A: I think the 12-step community has it right. The first and most important step towards fixing any problem like this is recognizing and admitting that the condition exists. In my experience, once people acknowledge it, whatever their own ideological dispositions – and I have found respected scholars at every point of the ideological spectrum willing to acknowledge it – from that time on they tend increasingly to become part of the solution and less and less part of the problem. Beyond that, I would not advocate any drastic steps, certainly nothing like quotas or affirmative action for intellectual diversity. At most, I would recommend admissions and hiring and promotions committees being aware of their own susceptibility to confirmation biases, and doing a self-inventory on this matter when they evaluate candidates and work that reaches a conclusion that differs from theirs. Q: Perhaps it would help if you went on the record and named names, including your own? The interview petered out at that point. My guess is that my source felt she/he had sufficiently probed the boundaries of good sense and good taste and continuing on would be tempting fate. In any case, there the matter must rest, whether or not Professor Jervis is satisfied. 1. For the surveys, see http://irtheoryandpractice.wm.edu/projects/trip/ --- _H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtables are made possible by the support of the International Security Studies Forum (ISSF), a partnership between the International Studies Association's Security Studies Section and the journals International Security, Security Studies, and the Journal of Strategic Studies. Copyright 2010 H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, H-Diplo, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the H-Diplo Editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.