Higher Education, Employment and the Current Crisis: Comments, Critique and Possible Solutions

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John-Belushi-College-Poster-C10000320

[Don't blame me...]

From early 2011 through 2012, a time-frame roughly corresponding with the emergence of the Occupy protests, I noticed a series of articles appearing in the mainstream press sharing a common theme: recent college graduates were finding the job search far more difficult than they expected, with few finding employment in the their major and many bearing the additional burden of college debt. Some questioned the utility of their degrees. The general response of the graduates interviewed was: “what happened? We expected jobs when we finished college.”

It was telling that most of the those who expected employment were graduates of the Ivy League. The phenomena of unemployment after graduation has been a problem in this country for decades. The idea of education as an “investment” rather than an “expense” has been laid bare by the high levels of debt often required to attain a BA and the declining likelihood that the BA will lead to employment.

More recently, a number of articles appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, The New Republic, The Claremont Review, and elsewhere lamenting the decline of the humanities. Here is a portion of TNR’s Leon Wieseltier commencement address to the Brandeis University class of 2013:

For decades now in America we have been witnessing a steady and sickening denigration of humanistic understanding and humanistic method…The technological mentality that has become the American worldview instructs us to prefer practical questions to questions of meaning – to ask of things not if they are true or false, or good or evil, but how they work. Our reason has become an instrumental reason, and is no longer the reason of the philosophers, with its ancient magnitude of intellectual ambition, its belief that the proper subjects of human thought are the largest subjects, and that the mind, in one way or another, can penetrate to the very principles of natural life and human life.

This post addresses three interrelated concerns: the decline of the Humanities and Liberal Arts (HALA), the increasing cost of education and some possible solutions. I begin with a somewhat paradoxical and undoubtedly controversial thesis: the Humanities and Social Sciences are in crisis because too many people pursue these fields of study rather than too few.

college-tuition-chart1

The Burden of Increasing Cost

In general, subsidizing consumption of a good or service leads directly to increased consumption of that good or service, which, in turn, leads increase in price. The idea that an infusion of federal dollars into the education sector is fueling price increases is known as the Bennett Hypothesis, after former Secretary of Education William Bennett. Bennett’s hypothesis is based on a simple understanding of the law of demand. And he was quick to point out that he did not think federal aid was the sole cause of the increase. However, there was a strong correlation. Nevertheless, his supporters often neglect other basic principles of micro-economics, including if the supply of something increases over time in pace with demand, the cost will not increase as well as the possibility that demand for education may be inelastic. That is, demand is not impacted by price.

Other contributing factors include increased administration costs and real estate expansion, plant and student housing upgrades, and the cost of college sports teams.

I am not an economist, but there are two factors at play here: how valuable is a humanities education? And how much does it cost? There is also the matter of tuition in relation to cost. Some Ivies, like Harvard, have increased their tuition, but they manage to keep costs down for students whose families make less than $50,000/year. In any event, the cost of higher education has increased while the economic value of many degrees has declined.

Why Are the Humanities in Decline?

As the quantity of something increases—and especially as its quality decreases—that leads to a service or commodity becoming less dear, less valued, and less prestigious. Writing in the Claremont Review, William Voegeli notes:

College was indeed a good investment of time and money in 1960, when only one out of every 13 American adults had a bachelor’s degree.

Now that the day is at hand when one out of every three will have a B.A., the calculus is different. Going to college is becoming one of those good ideas that turns into a bad idea when too many other people have the same idea—like leaving town early before a three-day weekend to avoid the traffic jam, thereby helping cause and becoming part of the traffic jam you left to avoid.

I recognize a decline in the prominence and stature of the humanities. Only it is not a relatively recent development as progressives argue or a product of 1960s efforts to replace a Western canon with something else as conservatives contend. Instead, the roots of our educational malaise can be traced back to the movement for compulsory high school and the democratization of college. Our crisis is one of oversupply. We have too many over-educated people in the US.

The truth is we (institutions of higher education) have been graduating too many Humanities and Liberal Arts majors since the 1980s. The vast majority of HALA graduates back then were not getting employed in their field of study. We (society) continued saying: “go to college. Education is the way to succeed.” But we were never honest about the type of education that was necessary to get ahead or the massive debt that many students would accumulate in pursuit of marginally beneficial degrees.

But what about the employers who constantly tell us they are not able to hire domestic graduates with the skill sets they are looking for? What about all these people with BAs who are unemployed or underemployed?

Thomas Jefferson was an early advocate of a two-tier educational system in the United States, with separate tracks for the laboring and elite classes. His vision largely held for over a century and a half. Before WWI, fewer than 15% of the population graduated high school and approximately 3% above the age of 25 held a bachelors degree. BA degrees in History, English, Foreign Languages and the Arts were a sign of membership in an intellectual elite. Liberal-arts education emphasized a Western canon of thought, politics, society and culture with a normative white, male, heterosexual.

Much of this elite nature of education was challenged by the Left. The Left fought for the democratization of education—more getting into college and more receiving degrees—as well as a decline of admissions standards to supposedly allow for more diversity and finally—via various forms of identity politics—a tremendous expansion of interdisciplinary “studies” programs that were openly hostile of the Western canon. Viewed in this light, conservatives claim it is not surprising that the Humanities have underwent a decline. Today, rather than a sign of erudition and familiarity with a common core of knowledge, a BA in the humanities is more likely to have a strong critique of Western imperialism and the supposed ills of “globalization” and a weak understanding of Western thought, art and culture.

While I share the conservatives malaise, the reason students who graduated high school in the 1920s were more knowledgeable than those of today concerns more than curriculum, it is closely related to the instigation of compulsory high school education. In rural areas it was common for males to end their formal education when they were strong enough to work on family farms that lacked a lot of machinery. That meant elementary school for most. The level of education was slightly higher in cities, but not much. It was not until the post-WWII era that educational opportunity was broadly expanded

We are not going back to the Jeffersonian model or the Fordist ideal of the production line. The nature of employment has changed. But do these jobs require bachelor’s degrees? One liberal economist notes:

Very few of those occupations require college in the sense that 90+% of people who pursue that occupation will benefit from having learned about it in college. But my guess would be that more than a few of these occupations “require” college in the sense that employers expect that applicants will have a BA. And this is our problem.  A “Diagnostic Medical Sonographer” is a highly-skilled job that doesn’t require college training in the sense that you can learn everything you need to do the job in a manner of months. But many colleges offer programs to help you become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. And when you compare unemployment rates for college graduates and non-college graduates, you see why someone might want to go to college to become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer even if it means taking on huge, unnecessary debt. And once there are enough college graduates who can become Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, you can see why employers would rationally toss out of the pile any resumes that don’t have a college degree on them.

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[How do I operate this thing?]

Some Possible Solutions

In conclusion I would like to mention some possible solutions to these problems. I am restricting these to higher education because that is my field. I realize they are drastic, even unfair. Do not take this as a policy blueprint and I do not expect those adversely impacted to agree with these recommendations all I ask is an honest evaluation.

The first thing that needs to happen if we in the Humanities want the stature of our work and research to increase is our schools need to be more restrictive. We need to accept and graduate fewer BAs, MAs and PhDs in History, Sociology, or Political Science, for example. Outside of the institutions, federal assistance for the non-poor should be extremely limited. We should not be subsidizing the sons and daughters of the managerial class to “find themselves” or otherwise extend their adolescence. The vast majority of funding for undergraduate students should go to the STEM majors: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and others who are pursuing courses of study that have a greater likelihood of gainful employment.

We need to be more supportive of students who display no interest in HALA and little in a BA. AA programs in engineering and science are often a perfect match for students with little interest in higher education and employers who need a workforce skilled in higher-level quantitative reasoning and an ability to communicate complex projects clearly and succinctly. This would mean increasing funding to community colleges and other two-year schools and retooling them for the twenty-first century. Making them more like Germany’s Fachhochschulen and less stepping-stones to the supposed “real” degree, which for most remains the BA.

Think about this: we would have more of the population getting educated for less money in less time, graduating with the skills that employers actually need. Instead of the situation where we are now, where we keep turning out unemployable twenty-something who are 100k in debt and wonder: “how did this happen to me? I did the right thing. I went to college.”

Telling teens to “just get the BA” is not working when over half never finish. From my close to ten years of teaching I can say fifty percent should not be in class in the first place. Douglas Murray opines, “even though college has been dumbed down, it is still too intellectually demanding for a large majority of students, in an age when about 50 percent of all high school graduates are heading to four-year colleges the next fall. The result is lots of failure”and:

The acceptable excuses for not going to college have dried up. The more people who go to college, the more stigmatizing the failure to complete college becomes. Today, if you do not get a BA, many people assume it is because you are too dumb or too lazy. Face it: To say “I’m just a high school graduate” as of 2008 is to label oneself in some important sense as a second-class citizen. No amount of protestations of egalitarianism by people who like the current system (i.e., people who do well in an academic setting) will change that reality-a reality fostered by a piece of paper that for most students in most majors is close to meaningless.

We shouldn’t aim for more college grads or fewer. The aim should be a comprehensive education system where every American can find a post secondary program to fit their needs; and for them to feel free to do so without experiencing a decline in their social capital. That’s bigger than an ed or a policy problem. This is a social/cultural issue.

We are missing an important component of the jobs discussion and that is, it is not so much that America lacks good jobs–we hear all the time from companies that want to fill jobs but lack qualified applicants–but that American youth are increasingly unemployable. Significant percentages of students are graduating high school without the ability to construct a well-written paragraph, let alone think critically. The National Assessment of Educational Progress estimates close to half are not prepared for college-level reading and a third are functionally illiterate. Even for those who do well, the skill set that most possess after a high school education is inadequate to land these good-paying jobs so some level of college is necessary.

Not necessarily at the BA level. In fact, our educational system over-emphasizes the BA. A large measure of this is market-driven, employers demand a BA and so we have applicants for BA programs. But when you look at what our students are graduating with (in terms of degrees) and the skills that employers are looking for, there is a huge disconnect. So what are these skills?

Our problem, generally as a society and specifically in regards to education, is we have prioritized the liberal arts degree over the technical degree for a variety of reasons. Part of this relates to the elite roots of a classical liberal education as opposed to the more plebian origins of technical-colleges. In other words, there is a class dimension. The assumption being a degree in the liberal arts was a pathway to the middle-class if not a certificate of bourgeois-ness. There was also a racial dimension. Urban Blacks and Latinos argued they were being tracked into industrial occupations and away from more intellectual and critical endeavors. All of this is part of our past. But it does not help explain how to fix things now.

My first proposal is dramatically reducing federal student aid for four-year college degrees in the fine arts, social sciences, and humanities primarily through a gradual elimination of the federal college loan system. This would have a double-impact in the short term in addition to a more longer term result. The dual impact would be reducing student enrollment–which would be the focus of the progressive media and the educational establishments–as well as significantly reducing costs. As others across the political spectrum have pointed out, the tremendous flows of capital from the federal government to higher education have contributed to skyrocketing tuition costs. The more longer term impact would be as the supply of people with BAs declined, the social value of the social science and humanities BA would increase.

My second suggestion is increasing funding for STEM especially at the AA level at city and community colleges: fully paid scholarships for students willing to complete these two-year degrees in the sciences and math, regardless of whether they want to complete a four-year degree.

These two changes in the way we think about and fund education would have far-reaching impacts. On the one hand, the notion that every young adult needs a liberal arts education to be successful would decrease. And we would be doing our youth a service by giving them an opportunity to start their adult lives free of debt and without a close to worthless degree in the liberal arts.

Neocon Jew World Order

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Did you pay attention to the Maureen Dowd-Paul Wolfowitz-“slithering neocon” controversy? If you have read this blog over the years you know I am particularly attuned to the sort of antisemitism that poses as anti-Zionism and anti-neoconservatism, but I have sort of reached the end of my rope on the latter.

One matter that I more or less avoid discussing with non-academics at this point is neoconservatism. There is so much wrapped up in the popular political imagination it is not at all clear what people mean when they use it. One safe assumption is when someone uses the term “neoconservative” or especially “neocon” in conversation at a social event, there is a strong negative association. After that, things get blurry. It can mean internationalist, as opposed to isolationist. It can mean Jewish. It can mean hawk. It can mean pro-Israel and/or Zionist.

To make things more complicated, some talk about the first wave of neoconservatives (Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz) and the second or contemporary wave of neoconservatives (Wolfowitz, Muravchik). Most think Dick Cheney or even John Bolton are neoconservatives. And to further muddy the waters, some refer to Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, and the rest of the conservative media echo-chamber as neocons.

One thing absent in most of these discussions is the neo element, which contains two primary dimensions. First, neoconservatism represented something new and important in realm of conservative ideas. Second, the neoconservatives brought a diversity in terms of ethnic background, to a primarily white, Anglo, foreign policy establishment.

One of the most important elements that originally made neoconservatives and neoconservatism such a challenge to post-World War II conservatism was the neoconservatives were not born and bred on the right. Similar to most of the influential anticommunists, there was a movement from left to right. It isn’t always from the radical left. Yes, some were Trots, others were FDR liberals, Muravchik was a social democrat. All were dismayed by the Democratic Party’s weakening defense posture in the 1970s. Another missing element is the neocons were neo because they were new and different, at that time. New to conservatism themselves. But also new for their insights. New for being white ethnics–especially Jews–rather than WASPS.

The people who are called neocons today–William Kristol, Max Boot, etc.–never went through that transition. They also are not saying anything particularly new when it comes to the mainstream conservative worldview (2012). If anything, neoconservative ideas about foreign policy–less about democracy promotion and more about the need for a projection of military strength–are the status-quo for the Republicans at this point.

I suspect at the core of the contemporary dislike of so-called neocons is this hawkishness. Despite what others may think about Americans, the notion that we might actually have to kill someone to maintain our security and way of life is not something we like to think about. We are socialized to dislike combat and war. Again, I know we have violent movies, video games, and all the rest. But the message we receive as we grow older–and especially after college–is war solves very little and it mostly leads to human suffering. In this context, use of the word “neocon”–especially the association with the supposedly failed policies of President George W. Bush–is a quick and fairly effective way for liberals to challenge hawkish foreign policy, broadly speaking. With this phraseology, President Obama is continuing neoconservative policies in the AfPak region.

Antisemitism is often involved as well. When someone goes into a tirade about supposed “neocon” influence and all the names they provide are Jewish, it is pretty obvious. It is one of those areas where the far-left and paleoconservatives, the old-guard isolationists and Nativists find common ground. However, unlike some of my conservative friends, I do not think this anti-Jewish sentiment is at the heart of liberal opposition to neoconservatism.

Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that a dislike of Israel, in particular Likud and any other party or project associated with the right,  is a sacred cow of the progressive and radical left at this point and intense dislike of Israel can dovetail with anti-Semitic tropes.

One example was the prevalence of the term “Likudnik” in the vocabulary of critics of the Iraq War. Anyone who supported President Bush’s policy was a “neocon” and if they were a vocal supporter of Israel, “Likudnik” was added for good measure. So when someone refers to Paul Wolfowitz as a “Likudnik” is that:

1) an anti-Jewish statement?

2) an anti-Israel statement?

3) an anti-right-wing politics statement?

All three or perhaps just one or two?

How can we be sure? How do we know? Does it depend on who is saying it? We run into the problem of self-identification and how we evaluate others.

At heart it is a inaccurate statement because Wolfowitz said he is not a supporter of the Likud and that he supported the two-state solution and peace with the Palestinians. I heard him say this with my own ears in front of an audience of hundreds of people in Manhattan, mostly Leftists. But this never gets brought up in relation to Wolfowitz.

Another important thing to consider is a perusal of Israeli sources at the time knows the actual Likudniks did not support the war in Iraq nor did they support the democracy promotion agenda in general. Their eyes then, as now, were on Iran.

On a peripherally related topic, I recently became aware of a supposedly anti-Semitic graffiti production in the Brick Lane neighborhood of London’s East End. The East End in the early twentieth century had a large working-class Jewish population, many involved in the needletrades, and a reputation for working-class radicalism. Rudolph Rocker, the so-called “anarchist rabbi”—who was not Jewish—was particularly influential.

Today the neighborhood is home to large South Asian and predominately Muslim population. It is also the epicenter of London’s “street art” scene and well in the middle of a gentrification process. While some describe the area as edgy, it seemed more hipster to me. Comrade Bob from Brockley gave me a tour earlier this year.

The piece, by MEAR1, depicts fairly standard New World Order conspiracy theory imagery including a group of old white men (The Illuminati?) assembled around a Monopoly board that is sitting on the backs of group of faceless people of color. In the background are ominous nuclear power plants and the gears of industrial capitalism.

What the piece lacks are the often obvious anti-Semitic trappings one associates with these conspiracy theories. So is this an anti-Jewish mural? I do not think so. Mainly because, in my experience with artists in general and graf writers in particular, if they want to make a controversial or even hateful image, they will. Another important thing to consider is what the artist has to say about the painting. In this case, MEAR states:

My mural is about class & privilege. The banker group is made up of Jewish & white Anglos. For some reason they are saying I am anti semetic. This I am most defenatly not. I believe in equality and brother & sisterhood on a global scale. What I am against is class. Ruling class, this is a problem and we need humanization.

As far as the “New World Order” fixation, I find it extremely problematic but I have known people who think like this for a long time. Some of them went down the road of seeing “Zionists” behind all the world’s problems and from there it is a short step to blaming “the Jews”. I get it. But there were many more people who did not undergo the same process. Instead they blame the Bilderbergs or the Council on Foreign Relations, or some other shadowy or not so shadowy group. In any event, not “Zionists” or Jews. Elites, yes. Old white men behind the scenes, yes. But Jews? No.

[Schematic New World Order]

The reason it is problematic is it is a political dead end. So you now have this supposedly secret knowledge about the Illuminati or whoever controlling the world. What is your next step? Does it lead to political mobilization and organization? Of course not. It is an excuse to disengage from the real difficult work of politics. After all, if these nefarious forces have always been around manipulating things what chance does someone like me have against the Leviathan? Like all forms of extremism, it also leads to a degree of distance between the person who has the inside knowledge and the mainstream supposedly clueless “sheeple”. In other words, the “New World Order” framework and those who adhere to it need to be challenged, but not via censorship.

[Blowhards]

Offensive? Stupid? Both and Worse

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Definitely offensive and a stupid thing to say. Romney, as a financial whiz, is supposed to understand that two very different cohorts (people who do not pay income tax and Democratic voters) who happen share the same numerical value (47 percent) are not equivalent. But here he is making this dumb argument. I don’t mean stupid politically (which it is), but just plain clueless.  In fact, as I am writing, Jonathan Podhoretz penned an op-ed “Feckless Versus Clueless“. In case it isn’t clear, given the choices, he’s voting for the idiot. That’s fine for the base, I suppose. But Romney also needs to worry about voters who are less rabidly anti-Obama.

The core argument Romney is making is a grand old one that has been stated by aristocrats for centuries: the poor, greedy, undeserving people–the underclass–are taking your money. But it’s hard to go there in the 21st century, especially when you are a billionaire. Plus the actual percentage of federal money spent on the poor is relatively small. So they added an industrial-era corollary, public employees are taking all your money. And to make it a little more contemporary, students are taking all of your money. And who pays for this? The first question is who doesn’t? The answer: 47% of the adult population. And these government dependent zombies are supposedly Obama’s base.

On the one hand, I agree that 47% of the electorate—if not more—will vote for Obama. I also accept Romney’s estimate of 47% of the electorate as not paying income taxes for the sake of argument. But it is a huge leap of logic in assuming the totality of this latter group will vote for Obama. It does not make any sense. There are lots of poor people in red states, many of whom are white, many of whom are Republicans, who do not pay income taxes. They are part of Romney’s base. Plus there are a lot of retirees who do not make enough to have to pay in. Most of them receive at least some of their income from Social Security and they paid into that system already.

There is an entire conglomeration–a mob, really–of people who make up this mythic 47%. When you break it down it includes everyone from the despised underclass to a grandma living on Social Security and whatever savings she has managed to hold onto through the recession. This comment at the American Conservative was great:

My 82 year-old mother is among the 47% who don’t pay federal income taxes. Yet, I guarantee she’ll vote for Romney. One of life’s ironies. She lives on Social Security benefits of $1300 per month, and about 1% interest on $250k in savings (which used to be $400k savings, a lot of money in her day, but she’s been spending it down in this chronic low interest rate environment). Out of that, she pays about $100/mo. in Medicare premiums, and another $90/mo. for a gap policy. The remainder, what there is of it, pays the rest of her bills. Meaning, she lives modestly, and is always worrying about money. My point being, can someone tell me where I can sign her up for the Overly Generous Elderly Benefits? I’m sure she’d sleep much better at night on that plan.

Setting aside the specifics about who is receiving what from the government, the entire foundation of this perspective needs to challenged. I am referring here to the idea that government assistance leads one to vote Democratic. There is no social science or other research available to support this assertion.

In fact, the vast majority of evidence we (social scientists and human beings in general) have accumulated points towards the relationship between government dependence (public housing, food stamps, etc.) and a lack of participation in politics. In other words, most poor folks, with the exception of the elderly, vote at incredibly low rates.

I am not troubled that Romney made an idiotic comment–politicians make them all the time–or even necessarily by the offensiveness of his remarks. It is the promotion of this myth that people dependent on government largesse form a huge base of voters for the Democrats. What about the people pulling in the really big money? I hate to harp on military contractors but what is the percentage of those folks who vote D? I would guess not many. Or how about other businesspeople who are dependent on the Pentagon and other federal bureaucracies to sell their wares?

The bottom line is most poor people do not vote. We have known this for a long time. There used to be an idea in the US, promoted by elites, that an uneducated and ignorant population, a rabble, an underclass estranged from civic life was not only dangerous for law and order but it prevented our full development as a people, as Americans. In other words, general political and civic education were seen as necessary for our prosperity and well-being. What happened?

How politicians, pundits and journalists–to say nothing of academics–can get away with this sort of rhetoric in the twenty-first century is astounding. And, yes, I was greatly perturbed by President Obama’s “clinging to religion and guns” comment as well. Our political class, which is just an extension of our managerial class, is out of touch with everyday Americans and this will only get more evident as we approach election day.

Local News (dated) and Regular Reads

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Local News (meant to post this a little over a week ago):

About two weeks ago, a tornado missed our home by a block. It was the mildest form of tornado (category 1? Or zero?). The damage was worse in my old neighborhood.

I know it was nothing compared to the twisters they get in place like Kansas and Oklahoma but it was pretty eerie. The sky turned from gray to black so quickly and then buckets or rain started falling down.

Regular Reads:

After much time away from my regular reads (over a month!) I finally had an opportunity to take a look around. Here is a sample of what I found:

Bob discusses Influential Left-Wingers. I wonder why he didn’t tag me?

Congratulations to Flesh is Grass for placing number 14 on top political blogs in the Green category.

Martin discuses left-wing antisemitism. I’ll have to take a look at the earlier post he mentions.

Mod on EDL violence.

Noga on Hitch on the Flotilla.

Roland is back in the mix! Here is a post on state-building in Iraq.

Over at Contentions, there is the usual mix of great stuff but Abe Greenwald’s “A Class War or War?” had me scratching my head in confusion. Not this part, which is undeniable:

On the same day that the president gave his academic instruction on the roots of religious scapegoating among the American working class, the Bipartisan Policy Center released a report titled “Assessing the Terrorist Threat,” which stated, “Last year was a watershed in terrorist attacks and plots in the United States, with a record total of 11 jihadist attacks, jihadist-inspired plots, or efforts by Americans to travel overseas to obtain terrorist training.” Most gruesome among them was the attack at Fort Hood, Texas, which killed 13 people…

And I somewhat agree when Greenwald notes:

The declarations of President Obama and of the Bipartisan Policy Center are the poles between which American national security now vacillates. We go from the real world, where gunmen scream “Allahu Akbar” and kill Americans, to the classroom, where Islamist terrorism does not exist and all conflict can be explained as a function of economic struggle.

However, the notion that “the classroom” (by which I presume he means academia) explains terrorism as a function of economics is simply false. Academics focus on everything from the political roots of terrorism to terrorism based on ethnic, national, and religious conflicts. Most do not trace terrorism to poverty. Yes, there are some academics, journalists and activists who take this position but it has largely been discredited in the scholarly community that actually focuses on terrorism.

But by the end of the post where Greenwald proclaims:

The classroom explanation is an insult to public intelligence. So too is the concomitant disclaimer that “the majority of Muslims are peace-loving people.” Not because it is false (it is not), but because no sane person has ever asserted the counterclaim.

I found myself sighing, “if that were only so.” There is a vocal contingent on the conservative end of the political spectrum that views Islam, the religion (not Islamism, the ideology) as the primary threat facing the U.S.

I would never suggest that the writers at Contentions think this way, but all one has to do is read the work of authors like Robert Spencer and others who have a significant following on the right to see there people who many conservatives would consider sane promoting some very batty stuff.

Then there was Jennifer Rubin’s “Liberals Versus Conservatives in Defeat.” Rubin is among my least favored writers over at Contentions. Here she compares the difference in perception between liberals and conservatives:

When things go wrong for the left, it blames the people; when things go wrong for the right, it blames the governing elites. It is not in the nature of conservatives to demean and attack fellow citizens. To the contrary, conservatives’ vision is grounded in the belief that Americans are competent, decent, and hardworking, and it is the heavy hand of government that threatens to squelch American virtues.

This is simply not the case. There is a strong tendency in classical conservatism to distrust “the masses” and place trust in governing elites. In fact, the history of conservatism in Europe can largely be traced to reactions against democratization and influence of the popular classes on the political and economic structures which influence their lives.

In the American context, libertarians, traditionalists, and other conservatives have long promoted variations of the concept of the remnant, a minority in any given society that was conscious and aware, while the majority of the population remained largely ignorant. One exemplar of this tendency was Albert J. Nock. Bernard Iddings Bell held similar beliefs.

American liberalism and American conservatism contain elitist and populist tendencies and influences, both sides have their establishment and their grassroots. The conflicts between these two groups within parties are occasionally more divisive than the conflict between parties. We are witnessing this in the current election cycle with the insurgent tea-party movement.

Yet the tea partiers are a larger and more diverse group than simply an element of the Republican grassroots. They include independents, swing voters and a significant number of people who are generally angered by out of control federal government spending. More on them later.