Radical Rashid

A journal called the Radical History Review, published by the Radical Historians’ Organization, Inc. (!), has just published an interview with Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor at Columbia University. I can’t possibly tackle this remarkable document in a single go—the dishonest elisions, the bombastic flourishes, the pompous posturing. It’s 200-proof Khalidi; you don’t drink it, you sip it.

Consider this strident claim: “There’s a ludicrous allegation that the universities are liberal. That allegation is ludicrous because huge chunks of the university which nobody ever talks about are extremely conservative by their very nature.” (Notice the trademark hyperbole: ludicrous, huge, extremely.)

Khalidi mentions business and med schools, but doesn’t stop there—no, he can’t stop there. For Khalidi is determined to prove that there’s a plot to snuff out the last embers of liberal dissent on campus. It’s here that Khalidi—carried away by his rhetoric and the prodding of his radical interviewers—goes right over the top.

“Where is there a law school that’s liberal?” Khalidi asks.

Well, there might be a couple of law schools that are slightly liberal. Slightly. But there’s a range of opinion in most of them, and most of them are quite conservative, and many of them are extremely conservative. The University of Chicago, for example. Nobody ever talks about that.

Does Khalidi have even a clue as to who populates the faculty of America’s law schools? A new study, the final version of which is about to appear in the Georgetown Law Journal, has researched the campaign contributions ($200 or more) of professors at America’s top 21 law schools over eleven years. 81 percent of contributing profs gave wholly or predominantly to Democrats; only 15 percent gave wholly or mostly to Republicans. “Academics tend to be more to the left side of the continuum,” commented the dean of Northwestern’s law school on the study. “It’s a little worse in law school.”

And what about the University of Chicago’s law school, which Khalidi cites as his prime example of an “extremely conservative” school? A study of the party political affiliation of law faculty has established that Chicago’s law profs include 55 Democrats and 8 Republicans—a ratio of about 7 to 1. (That’s only “conservative” by the standards of Columbia, where the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is 12 to 1.)

Alright, you say, so Khalidi probably doesn’t know much about law schools. But how about schools of international relations and international affairs? He should definitely know the score there, right? After all, at the University of Chicago he directed the Center for International Studies. At Columbia, he directs the Middle East Institute, part of the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). So here he goes: “Most schools of international affairs are conservative (i.e., security studies). They’re not extremely conservative, necessarily, but they’re certainly not left-liberal or liberal.” Certainly not.

Now as it happens, the current issue of Foreign Policy has an article summarizing the findings of a fall 2004 survey of international relations faculty. The survey asked them this question: “How would you describe your political philosophy?” This is how the researchers summed up the answer to this and other questions:

Sixty-nine percent of international relations professors, describe themselves as liberal; a scant 13 percent see themselves as conservative. They overwhelmingly opposed the U.S. war in Iraq, almost unanimously believe that the United States is less respected in the world because of it, and they think that this loss of respect poses a significant problem for U.S. foreign policy. Seventy-seven percent of them support free trade, and only 10 percent believe the United States should beef up its military budget.

So Khalidi’s claim that “most schools of international affairs are conservative,” and that “they’re certainly not left-liberal or liberal,” is also fact-free (perhaps “ludicrous” would be the right word).

All this leaves one wondering just what’s going on in Khalidi’s head. The answer, of course, is that Khalidi is a radical. If you’re a campus radical, you dismiss anyone who isn’t totally with you as a “conservative” or an “extreme conservative.” You may be surrounded by people who view themselves as liberals, who opposed the Iraq war, who believe in “soft power.” But because they won’t denounce America as a resurrected empire or rally to the likes of Joseph Massad, you cast them all as “conservatives” who are part of the problem.

That’s why I’ve never understood the willingness of liberals to see Khalidi as a “friendly.” Behind their backs, to his soulmates at the Radical History Review, he trashes them contemptuously. He’s most dismissive of the liberal university administrators (you know, the ones who’ve provided him with job after job). He thinks they too are conservative drones, who haven’t done enough to defend academic freedom:

The institutions are all cautious and conservative. And everybody is worried about alienating this senator, or that committee, or this department of government, because the universities are deeply dependent on the government… This university won’t do it because the president feels this way, that university may not because they have a Republican governor who will be angry.

Given that some of these timid liberals have gone out of their way to help radical Rashid shimmy up the academic pole, he probably regards them as useful idiots. He’d be right.

Addendum: Visit this entry at Sandbox for an additional comment by Martin Kramer on the Khalidi interview.