Do Conservatives Fear Liberal Intellectual Thinkers?

This is the first of a series of posts I will write in hopes of creating a discussion about the state of conservatism, from the point of view of liberals and conservatives.

While I was an undergraduate at Harding University, Bill Cosby was invited to the campus as a comedian/ entertainer. I recall being highly upset by this invitation. It was not that he was invited that bothered me, but that he was invited as a comedian. Cosby has clearly become more conservative about social and economic issues vis-a-vis the black community; however, as an older black male, I have always seen him as a person who understands the plight of black folks. I would have preferred the school to have invited him as a part of its prestigious American Studies speaker series, but that was not the case. I suspect that this conservative series would be a little uncomfortable with the questions an older educated black man would present to the audience.

Some conservative institutions are only comfortable inviting conservative speakers to its campus because such speakers do not challenge the audience to think about the universal social conditions that have manifested liberal thinking (this is true of liberal schools too). Harding is not the only institution that does this. On a day that I was traveling for academic reasons last fall, Houston Christian High School invited a speaker to its campus to discuss politics and faith. Many of my students could not help but note the speaker’s historical mistakes and false conclusions, as noted in this blog piece written by my former student, Sam Thompson. I would like to believe that my critical approach to teaching played a part in helping students balance what they heard. Could it be that some conservatives talk about values and attitudes as if political and economic structures do not exist.? Cornel West contends that:

They (conservatives) rarely, if ever, examine the innumerable cases in which black people do act on the Protestant ethic and still remain at the bottom of the social ladder. Instaed, they highlight the few instances in which blacks ascend to the top, as if such success is available to all blacks, regardless of circumstances.

This dynamic is exacerbated even more when black liberals have to play the role of a conservative, when analyzing the black social condition. Michael Dyson, in 2005, published Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost its Mind? The book addresses the problem of class conflict within the black community. This conflict is not so much of a Marxists illustration as it is a change in the definition of black consciousness. In 2004, Bill Cosby addressed the failure of many African American parents to look after their children, the majority of whom are raised in single-parent households. “Cosby urged the black community to embrace education more passionately, become more law-abiding, and learn to speak proper English.” I am sure that most Americans would agree with Cosby here; however, this is a convoluted issue that cannot be addressed by conservative pundits seeking to place blame on a race. This is an American institutional problem that has been promulgated by decades of racism. True, black people must learn to speak better English; however, when many who are at the bottom of the middle class totem poll struggle to survive economically, it is up to liberals to speak, write, and teach conservatives about institutional social conditions. For example, as noted in James Loewen’s book Sundown Towns, many minority groups have been forced to migrate together in communities that share the same language. That language for many blacks is broken English. When parents and grand parents have been denied equality of education for a long period of time, it is difficult to break this social cycle, especially when the income is not there.

Would Houston Christian High School or other Christian schools allow liberal black thinkers to teach about the social condition of institutional problems through a Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, etc., I am not sure — I suspect they would with a degree of censorship. Was Bill Cosby censored? Probably not; I imagine that there were those who would be concerned with a black liberal thinker introducing dark complex issues to a predominant white Christian audience. This is why diverse thinkers and views belong in conservative institutions (the other way around as well). If not me, Edward Carson… who — a token thinker who will promulgate the same point of thought that Harding’s American Studies Institute brings to its campus.

I do believe that it was this comment that set so many black people off, in saying that Cosby had become not only an economic elite, but a social one as well:”Those people are not Africans; they do not know a damn thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Shaliqua and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail.” I like Bill Cosby and I think I understand what he is trying to say; however, there is clearly a gap between Cosby and those at the bottom of the middle class totem poll.

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35 thoughts on “Do Conservatives Fear Liberal Intellectual Thinkers?

  1. One of the things I’m proudest of in my life is my refusal to let the principal censor my copy of The Bluest Eye for your sociology class my senior year of high school. It seems like a small thing, but it matters to me because I believe in telling the whole story of people’s lives and censoring that book would have greatly skewed the story of the poor black American. On another note, black people are not the only Americans that should learn to speak proper English; there are a great many Harding stupids that present themselves as utter morons in both spoken and written language.

  2. You do know that I caught some heat over assigning that book. Ken Roberts actually came around — though I was forced to censor parts of it. So, “Harding stupids.” I guess you had some rough students in a few classes. The Bluest Eye should be required by all schools. Of course, some cannot handle a work this dark.

  3. Wow! Edward, great post. It can not be said any better. I find it amazing that people, liberal and conservative fear hearing a different and at times uncomfortable position. As for schools, they are only means for pushing a particular thought across. I wonder if there really is a such thing as an liberal arts education? Liberal education should make people uncomfortable as they reflect on what has been presented. As for black academics in conservative institutions, aman!

  4. Kristi,

    Tell me, why do you think it was so important for you to have read Morrison’s book? Some would say that looking at life and culture from such a graphic perspective is not important in everyday life. Although CAC allowed me to teach this work, there is no way HCHS would allow it. Is it beacuse we have a very conservative family base that would prefer their students to hear complex issues presented in a way that is designed to shelter them? I would teach that book tomorrow if I could. It is one of the most important books ever written to address the dark internal conflicts in the black community.

  5. To put it in overly simplistic terms, conservatives generally believe change should start at the bottom, with the individual. Liberals generally believe change should start from the top, with the government.

    The truth is probably somewhere in between.

    I could flip the question about conservatives and ask this about liberals: “Could it be that some liberals talk about political and economic structures as if values and God do not exist?”

    There is a strain of liberalism that wants to keep God out of government entirely, so it is understandable that some Christian institutions are wary of social solutions that cut Him out of the loop or try to pass off personal responsibility. Are they being overly protective of their students by limiting the discourse.? Maybe. That cuts both ways, though. While a private institution may decline a speaker on frank disagreement, some public institutions host speakers who are shouted down and ridiculed once they are on stage. What happened to honest debate?

    I won’t defend Harding University. At some point you have to trust people to hear different points of view and sort the truth out.

  6. Mr. Swaim, anything could be true when you ask the question like that. Of course there are some liberals that do almost anything, just as there are some conservatives that do almost anything. For example, I’m a liberal in political ideology, but I’m highly spiritual and conservatively religious, i.e. I’m a member of the church of Christ. My father is generally a liberal but hates property taxes because he sent his kids to private school. Rephrase the question and then we can answer it the way you want it answered.

  7. “Some” liberals, just as Eddie’s original question posed “some” conservatives. We are in agreement that both sides have their partisans and their moderates. I was just pointing out there are deaf ears on both sides. 🙂

    Should schools cherry-pick who they let their students listen to? Hmmm… that’s a slippery slope, isn’t it? In the case of Harding, people generally go there for a focused Christian education, not for debate on greater social issues—I don’t think there was any false advertising there. Does Harding do themselves and their students a disservice? I guess that depends on your point of view and what kind of education you expect. It’s a good question.

  8. Swaim,

    I do not think liberals want to keep God out of government. I do believe they would like to protect the freedoms of all. Liberals would tell us that what makes America great is the unique aspect of pluralism that has allowed every member (based on race, religion, ethnicity, etc.) to have a share of the political polity; however, some groups have to work harder. The basis of the liberal tradition is that individual freedom is important to defining and protecting each person, which is based on our natural rights. Liberals believe that governments are put in place by each plural member to protect his or her rights to believe and practice whatever he or she desires, as long as it does not violate another’s natural rights.

    From a political view, I have found that the basic notion of conservatives is to protect their status — be it religious, wealth, position, etc; they realize this can occur as long as government does not get involved in the basic aspects of competition. The problem here is that the liberal minority feels a need to have government to act as a protector of one’s rights. If not, the minority will not have a fair chance.

    I am not sure what happened to an honest debate. Liberals are just as bad as conservatives here.

  9. Carson – the majority have become the minority. Liberal arguments such as the stuff you wrote about has forced white, upper-middle class protestants to fear being pushed around by a liberal government looking to protect the intellectual views of a minority, at the price of us (majority).

  10. “at the price of us (majority)” – It does not sound like you are vanishing. One day we all will vanish and become a part of one race. Of course, there is no beauty in a single race seeing that God created us in His image — which I am sure looks a lot like the city of Houston.

    (I prefer your real name here)

  11. How are you defining liberal and conservative? It seems that you are making excuses for people who do not study or stay in school, stay out of trouble, and who decide to be a single parent. I ask, is this liberal? I am a conservative and do not think people should read books about the struggles that people have put themselves in. I teach my kids to take ownership and work it out. I agree with Bill Cosby. Liberal intellectuals such as you make too many excuses for lazy people. This is why people are on welfare. You must be a Democrat.

  12. Mr. Carson,

    I was not trying to be ugly. Your post is good and really got me thinking. I would like for you to respond to my comment. Thanks.

  13. George, I’m not Carson, but the reason people should read books about “the struggles that people have put themselves in” is because regardless of who’s responsible for those struggles, those people are people that we are absolutely required to interact with in society. Knowledge really really is power. You can teach your kids to live like llamas for all I care, but someday they are going to go to school with or work with or live down the street from someone who is a single parent. And by the way, not all single parents decide to be single parents.

  14. I have to agree with Kristi here. Let me use this example: Take Katrina – there are a number of people who at one point were a part of the undeserving poor because fate was beyond them. Many of these people lost both their home and business. The country felt sorry for them then. Just like post American Civil War, many people felt the period of the multiracial experiment Reconstruction should have made up for a long period of oppression by the institution of slavery. Well, 12 years is not long enough.

    People do not realize that we have a new homeless population due to circumstances beyond them; we have already started to accuse them of being lazy — they have had long enough. It takes government to help these people. Only they and those who advocate for them can really understand their social condition.

    I find it scary that you do not want your kids reading about the social condition of others – why study history or read literature.

  15. My problem with many of the extreme liberal [leaders is that they are sometimes given a pass and even applauded when they suggest things like gunning down their opposition or killing all white people (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMOkDOXAovQ though I don’t know whether this guy has any credibility or standing). But then again conservatives have Pat Robertson who just needs to keep himself quiet more often than not. Sigh.

    Do I take any stock in what they say? No, but it disturbs me and upsets me as a WASP. Trent Lott makes a booboo in reference to Stom Thurmond’s past and he looses his career. Hillary Clinton refers to the House of Representative as a plantation in front of a primarily black audience and does anyone care?

    One humorous story about who Harding invites to campus: This past year they had Sean Hannity for ASI. I listen to him over the internet most days. I don’t know if there was a controversy elsewhere but someone started a thread in the MySpace Harding forums saying he was removing support for Harding because of something Hannity said. He said something like “America is God’s greatest gift to us” as he says often on his show. The obvious oversight being that most in the audience would say that Christ was the greatest gift. Sigh again.

  16. I would not call such people liberal Matt (Lee). Better yet, radical or reactionary, depending on their motives and their direction. Interesting video piece. He and Pat Roberts would have a few words. I do watch the Hannity show at times. I believe he is the one thing that makes Fox News so conservative. I do not care for him. I do like Bill O’Reilly – he thinks about what he is saying. As for Harding and Hannity, I wonder about that school at times. Hey, it is my understanding that a number of students and alumni got mad about them inviting Anne Coulter, thus they withdrew the offer.

  17. That audio link to Cosby speaking is great. I forgot how he can take something serious and make it funny. You have to admit, he is right.

  18. I like the idea of two parties with two opposite opinions living in harmony debating our views with each other and having a civilized discussion. And this can be accomplished amongst intellectuals whose heads are not so thick that any outside force cannot pennetrate the forcefield of smug they have created for themselves(deep breath). But this paradise is not a reality on the big stage. Because there is a divide, there is competition. And with competition brings all kinds of things that are a pain to deal with. The truth is that most people are ignorant. They think what they think because that is what they have been trained to do. Trained by friends, family, and what they see and hear on television. This is all they know, working week to week for a paycheck just to survive. The goal of the burgeoisie is to make sure the proletarian stays a proletarian, and does not get wise. This works both ways, conservatives are no more scared than liberals. Both want the same thing, and bringing in the opposition for lectures does not help their cause.
    And that makes since. People should not have to rely on their leaders to dictate what they hear, but they should learn and study for themselves. But as I stated earlier, the masses are ignorant and as long as there is life there will be ignorance, it is our job as intellectuals to live with it and only hope to change some minds.”Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” Albert Einstein.

  19. Matt Austin,

    I think you have something. If the general goal in life is to get by day to day, why interrupt that. People do tend to prefer a level of comfort, thus they stop thinking and take what others give them. Unfortunately, I have fallen into this trap before, we all have. The key is not to stay there. I like your thought process.
    So, it sounds as though you enjoyed that piece on Marx. See you in class.

  20. I definitely agree with Matt. Although “harmony” between the two parties would be ideal, in the sense that we could perhaps get things accomplished without drawn out arguments and debates caused by pettiness, this is a competition to them and “harmony” cannot and will not happen. Both parties like to protect their members from hearing the other’s point of view out of fear that they will start thinking and making up their own minds. It is all too common in this country that children develop their parents political and religious views and never learn to think on their own.
    An example: I am not allowed to read certain books and watch certain movies due to my parents/grandparent’s fear that I may start to question my beliefs and moral values.
    People need to come up with where they stand based off of their own life experiences as well as learning from others. NOT just what they are told. To me censorship shouldn’t be allowed when it comes to good literature and political views.

  21. Emilly,

    You never told me that your home was a censored one. I would think that reading other perspectives would make one’s faith stronger. If not, it was not real from the start. You can read and watch various news outlets — right?

  22. My parents preferr Fox. If anything else is on at home you can bet that at one point in time the sentence, “those liberals are a bunch of morons!” will be shouted across the house to another member of the family. But no, it’s mainly books and movies I’m kept from, oh and anything with witches and wizards and “evil things”.

  23. I’m kinda slow, here, so please bear with me. Is this all about how CONSERVATIVES don’t want to hear opposing views? If so, could someone tell me when the last time a conservative organization of any kind had it’s members demonstrate against a liberal speaker, or have them CANCELLED like Justice Clarence Thomas is almost always treated? The late Lee Atwater, one of Reagan’s campaign advisors, was added to regents’ board of a major black college in DC twenty years ago and was forced to immediately resign when black students, supported by Jesse Jackson and the wohole liberal black establishment, took over the dean’s office and refused to leave. Such actions have never been seen on a conservative campus. How many black schools have a conservative based course? Intellectual intolerance only exists among black liberals. White liberals don’t like it, but they endure conservative speakers. Blacks do not even allow it.

  24. Stephen,

    In some ways, it is difficult for me to disagree with you regarding some of your comments. True, black colleges do tend to be liberal. I suspect much of that has to do with historical forces. And, as you noted, liberals easily get bent out of shape when conservatives such as Thomas are asked to speak. Note: We liberals believe in being open minded when it works for us. I guess my point is this: I do feel that conservative religious institutions fear hearing another voice more than that of secular ones. It is interesting that one can look at this issue from two sides – which in many ways is the point. My agenda is more towards that of religious institutions that foster a need to eliminate the other voice, esp. that of black intellectuals with serious alternative views.

  25. Carson, please do not attempt to speak for all liberals. Also, I might be stretching this a bit far, but isn’t it conservatives that blow up abortion clinics?

  26. Kristi,

    Carson is correct here. I think that is okay, as long as liberals speak and act for racial, political, social, and economic justice. If these things are in place, liberals should have it their way.

  27. He’s still not allowed to speak for everyone. Besides, I doubt there are a lot of conservatives running around thinking they’re doing things that are anti racial, political, social, and economical justice, especially when you consider the vast number of Christians that consider themselves conservatives.

  28. Kristi, I agree. It is easy to do that, though. That is what frustrates me most about Jesse Jackson, he assumes too often that he is speaking for black liberal America. No – he is speaking for himself.

  29. I think Carson is right- if you’re a hoity toity pseudo intellectual who sat thru a bunch of classes/ got your ticket punched, and have a few degrees to hang on the wall.
    But I actually think Cosby is right. Get over yourself Carson- it doesn’t take a village or an intellectual bearing moot social theory and tales of woe which span human history, it takes a family. I don’t think Conservatives fear “liberal intellectuals”. I do think Conservatives fear the hate and intolerance of people who always claim the higher moral ground while assembling mobs, calling their intellectual foes racists and demanding apologies, resignations, dismissals, terminations and endings of careers.
    “…this is a convoluted issue that cannot be addressed by conservative pundits seeking to place blame on a race.” Pretty cynical of conservatives? yes!
    “…This is an American institutional problem that has been promulgated by decades of racism.”
    So it’s got nothing to do with a wanton disregard or contempt for anything outside of local black culture within the getto? Don’t blame whitey if you are first beaten down by daddy when he tells you to stop actin’ white!
    “…it is up to liberals to speak, write, and teach conservatives about institutional social conditions.” Again, get over yourself! What do you recommend, brainwashing, indoctrination camps, sensitivity training (white guilt 101)…?

    Have a Great Day!

  30. Mike,

    “Again, get over yourself! What do you recommend, brainwashing, indoctrination camps, sensitivity training (white guilt 101)…?”

    I am not asking for any of the above; however, I am asking that black/ white, religious/atheist, etc allow liberals to explain the social condition for groups that have been institutionalized by past events. It takes time and a collective universal effort to move society forward. If we continue to be caught in an ideological and racial delimma, the gap will only increase as the effort will fail. I am asking for a sense of openness and understanding. True, I do need to get over myself; I need a lot of help from a diverse group.

    I am not pointing the finger at a race or a people; I am pointing the finger at a society that assumes all is forgiven, hence we all should just move forward. Why cant people put their agendas aside and listen to the downtrodden?

  31. Hello again;
    A while back, I asked how many conservative organizations of any kind ban or harass speakers who disagree, and Kristi asked “Isn’t it conservatives who blow up abortion clinics?”. Carson also responded that his focus was on RELIGIOUS institutions who do not tolerate dissenting speech.

    Well, painting ALL Christians as clinic bombers is like saying that all blacks sell drugs on a street corner, or that all black teens are parents. As for the religious angle, it makes sense that religious institutions of ALL persuasions limit sissenting speech. T

    The main reason for these institutions is to seperate themselves from those who disagree in principle. That applies to all of them.

    Ted Kaczinksi was a liberal college rofessor until he started setting off bombs around the country, and I still say that conservatives, white or black, allow dissenting speech a hundred times more than do black liberals. If you want to know fear, I think black liberals fear people like Cosby, Shelby Steele and Ward Conner because black liberals don’t want to lose that “my lack of success in the world is the white man’s fault” crutch.

    Black liberals don’t want to hear the truth; that the KKK’s best tactic has been to leave us alone and let us destroy ourselves, and that the main reason we as a people have accomplished so little is nobody’s fault but our own.

    Mr Carson mentioned Katrina, but like everybody else, does not mention that more people were displaced in Mississippi than in Louisiana, but all we ever heard out of those people (color irrelevant) was how well their government officials handled the situation.

    Few people, black liberals especially, want to consider that hurricane disaster is a STATE and LOCAL responsibility, like street crime and the fed only steps in when all local efforts have been exhausted.

    FEMA and George Bush have been blamed for not moving in and taking ALL responsibility for the situation. It is only the lack of courage on the part of the federal leaders that allowed the media and the poverty pimps to hijack a terrible situation and turn it into a political football.

    If you look at all the natural disasters that have befallen ‘other’ communities over the past fifty years, you get a picture of survivors and fighters who quickly moved back into their destroyed communities and rebuilt within a couple of years, using mostly low cost federal loans, insurance proceeds, personal savings and HARD WORK.

    As of this writing, the majority of New Orleans’ displaced citizens are still living in other STATES. Hey, I know it’s hard for people who have no money or insurance to make a comeback, but that’s another responsibility of the people, not the government.

    We have people here in Georgia who have been bumped from the housing waiting list and replaced by former residents of New Orleans.

    It’s not conservatives who are afraid of dissent. Philosophical intolerance is one province dominated by liberals. All available evidence shows it.

    As the book title suggests, Bill Cosby may NOT be right, but he’s a lot closer to the truth than any of his detractors
    Stephen Frazier

  32. Stephen,

    Sorry for the late response here. True, I do fear Ward Conner, not for his views, but more for how he has used the same policies to get ahead using the same New Deal policies that he is now trying to kill. I do not think that Christians are clinic bombers — those people only pretend to be Christian, pretty much like a member of the KKK. Actions speak louder than words on most matters.

    I never blamed Bush for the FEMA issue; I think that was a problem of communication between the local, state, and federal government. I really blame the NO mayor for not acting.

    I think conservatives fear many of the New Deal policies that still exist. I believe in a socialist state — Jesus spoke of such a state. God placed governments on earth so that they would follow the number one Christian premise outside of loving God first, that premise is to take care of others. True, people do take advantage of the system, but what about the many who do not. We as a nation are so concerned with those who do nothing, we fail to focus on those who do plenty — but that plenty is just not enough. Oh, much where was Cosby when many blacks were being oppressed? Why speak now and not then? Is he concerned with losing his economic base? capitalism will do that to a person.

    Here are a few things that trouble me:

    1. How can a poor person endorse or favor fiscal conservative views?
    2. Why do some blacks favor the very same policies that are working against them – republican goals, elitism, etc?
    3. How do people allow conservative pundits to hide their economic plight under the umbrella of God and religion?

  33. Edward;
    I have answers to your questions regarding;
    1. How can a poor person endorse or favor fiscal conservative views?

    For me, it easy. I constantly dream, plan and work to become RICH. Conservative views favor and benefit those who do the same. When I become rich, I will be the same person, only rich. Why should that change my views? Do yo know of any RICH people who are working to become poor?

    2. Why do some blacks favor the very same policies that are working against them – republican goals, elitism, etc?

    These policies only work against those who wish to remain as they are, self perpetuating victims of their own misfortune, ineptitude or inabilities. By the way, you are confusing Republicanism with Conservatism. Your article also presumes that all blacks think alike and that we are all poor and liberal. Whites mau be rich, conservative AND liberal. Why must all blacks be alike?

    3. How do people allow conservative pundits to hide their economic plight under the umbrella of God and religion?

    Blacks, of all the known races, hide behind religion more than any other. Economic plight in America is directly related to the amount of effort one puts into one’s own economic development. Nothing a PUNDIT can say or do will affect me unless I grant permission. Like the devil, pundit’s real power is granted by his victim. If blacks spent as much time WORKING as we do COMPLAINING, we would have eclipsed the majoity decades ago. As it is, we have whined ourselves into THIRD place in the pecking order. The only reason we are economically no better off than Cambodian immigrants is that there are more of us than them.

    PS In answer to your message’s premise (Do conservatives fear liberal thinkers?); When was the last time YOU heard of a LIBERAL being booed off stage, attacked with cream pies or prevented from speaking at a college? When was the last time conservative students took over a college dean’s office in protest of a LIBERAL policies? Blacks in America have the distinction of being the only people who routinely protest when a SUPREME COURT JUSTICE speaks at a college.

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