They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there.
You'll either be a union man
Or a thug for J.H. Blair.
Which side are you on, boys, which side are you on?
Rick Hills has posted a little item that inspires all sorts of thoughts with varying degrees of relevance (all of them positive) to MoneyLaw:
One reason I chose to be an academic is to gain the right to choose my positions a la carte rather than from the prix fixe menu of Left-Right vacuities that dominate the punditocracy and blogosphere. So, for instance (to pull a random example out of thin air), it strikes me as inane to have a general ideological position on "unions," as if one should endorse or condemn together the baseball players' union, the corrections officers union in California, the Teamsters, or District Council 37. Likewise, it strikes me as absurd to think that, because I worry about the latest round of contracts between the public sector and New York City, that I am hostile even to public-sector unions in general. . . .Rick's post is worth pondering for these reasons:
My hypothesis: Some academics have joined a sort of intellectual's trade union in which two positions — disapproval of District Council 37 and love of Wall Street — must somehow be bundled together as negotiating items. That sort of bundling of positions makes perfect sense in a two-party system as a means of simplifying ballots for busy voters: After all, Duverger's Law requires us to choose one of two sides. But it is senseless in an academic blog. When it comes to thinking and writing, we academics should put our union cards in our shoes and all be shameless scabs, choosing whichever intellectual position happens to yield the greatest payoff.
- Rick makes an appealing call for pluralism in academic thought. Diversity and freedom of thought, which after all are putatively prized values in academia, should permit the full range of views on all sorts of issues, including labor-management disputes in wildly different economic settings.
- Rick drops an awesome name, Maurice Duverger. The full cite is Maurice Duverger, Factors in a Two-Party and Multiparty System, in Party Politics and Pressure Groups: A Comparative Introduction 23-32 (1972). Duverger's Law predicts that first-past-the-post voting systems will yield a two-party polity. More grimly, moderate views tend to polarize until two entrenched parties dominate the political landscape. What is true of electoral politics, I'll hypothesize, is also true of the academic equivalent. Articulating the identity and mission of those parties will be an exercise left to the reader, or perhaps even a future MoneyLaw post.
- In a society that has rightfully come to scrutinize everyone's terms and conditions of employment, members of the most generously compensated and thoroughly sheltered segment of higher education — yes, the tenured professoriate — should be more circumspect. In case you hadn't noticed, there's a class war going on out there. Tenure and high professorial salaries are not outrageous per se. We do need, in these times as never before, to justify those privileges. Living up to our ideals regarding academic freedom and intellectual pluralism would be a good place to start.
- In light of all of these points, it seems churlish — even "thuggish," to use a term associated with J.H. Blair — to paint Rick as an "aspiring union buster" for the purported thoughtcrime of thinking and writing for himself.
John Henry Blair, Harlan County (Ky.) sheriff, 1922-25 and 1930-33
Will you be a thinking prof
Or a thug for J.H. Blair?