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The Political Spectrum ~~ Serious and Polite Discourse ~~ James Watkins and phdast7
Political Labels -- Helpful or Terribly Confusing?
Last year I posted a hub about the book, “Under a Cruel Star A Life in Prague” and how I use it in my history courses. James Watkins, a much respected and scholarly writer on HubPages, responded with some interesting commentary. And although he and I agree on many, many things, we do approach some topics quite differently. Because we have nothing but good will for and positive intentions toward each other, I contacted James and he agreed I could make our conversation public. -- Here is the conversation:
James A. Watkins -- "I love your article. It was wonderfully written and delivers a needful and marvelous missive. And you may know that I like you, and I have enjoyed all of your Hubs. But I respectfully ask you to consider another point of view about one section in your article."
James Watkins quoted from the hub "Under a Cruel Star" -- "The instructor should have previously discussed the political spectrum, left/center/right, the characteristics of fascism, the development of National Socialism, and Hitler’s ascension to power. Students need to be able to clearly situate fascism and Nazism on the far right . . . the communist system; after all, it was the antithesis of fascism and capitalism, with their great extremes in status, wealth, and power."
James A. Watkins -- “I submit that placing Fascist Germans on the right of the political spectrum is very successful propaganda promulgated by American and European university professors who were and are 90 percent Leftists themselves.”
You are not the first person to offer such a sweeping assessment of American university professors (I cannot speak for European Universities, as I know nothing about them.) I have spent the last 25 years inside of American universities – 10 years as a student and 15 years as a professor. I have spent time at seven different universities in Georgia; attended 30-35 History conferences all over the United States; listened to well over 100 history paper presentations on the Twentieth Century, and met several hundred History professors from all over America.
NOTE: Below is a simplified political spectrum, often used with students. There are a multiplicity of different, interesting, and useful ways to visualize and graphically display political systems.
FAR LEFT ------------------------- POLITICAL CENTER ----------------------- FAR RIGHT
Communism ----------------------- Moderate Center ------------------------------- Fascism
Stalinist U.S.S.R. ------------ Democrats/Republicans ------------ National Socialism
Political Composition of American Universities
Based on twenty-five years of experience with American Universities and University professors, here is what I have found. Most universities are full of people who vote democrat or republican, 90-95% are moderates, falling somewhere well within the political center.
Very few faculty are on the far right or the far left; there is substantial sociological research and evidence that demonstrates that as professors age (people in general actually) they move toward the political center, which I find very interesting. But that is another article waiting to be written -- why most of us move toward the political center as we age.
Most of them are married (a higher percentage of professors die married to their first and only spouse than is true of the general American population) – have a comparatively low divorce rate, most have children, most attend some sort of mainstream church, most are involved in some local community charity, foundation, or activity.
Are there any radicals or reactionaries on university faculties? Sure, there might be one or two at a college that employs 75 to 100 faculty; there are probably five or six at a university that employs 200 to 300 faculty. You might also occasionally find a black power radical (left) or a reactionary (right) Islamic fundamentalist , but they are few and far between at most universities.
Even more importantly, the radical leftist and the reactionary rightist professors are usually hired as temporary lecturers or instructors; very few presidents or faculty, for that matter, (there are a few and they are always in the news – what a surprise) want to permanently hire someone who will constantly agitate, cause trouble, and make the work environment difficult for everyone.
Political Inclination of American University Faculty
James A. Watkins - "Why? [ Why would anyone place National Socialism on the Right? ] " [ Because ] with the huge stack of Leftist regimes that committed murderous rampages on their own people in the 20th Century, putting the Nazis on the Right is a way to assuage the collective (a word Leftists love) guilt of Leftists, and balance the scales in the minds of the young."
First, I do not find that most convinced leftists feel very guilty, even if they should (and sometimes I really think they should); I often find them to be arrogant, single-minded hard–liners who waste no time or energy on guilt, but then there are quite a few people of the "rightist" persuasion that I would describe in exactly the same terms. Both extremes have amazingly similar personalities. Something to think about, because what they have in common is not their politics, but their rabid and irrational extremism.
I believe you are mistaken or misinformed about the political tendencies of American university professors. They are not hard leftist-communists; in fact very few of them are soft leftist – socialists. The professoriate in Europe may indeed be quite different, I can’t speak to that. But I am quite familiar with the majority of American university faculty.
Assuming I might be correct, then how can we explain the divergence in your convictions about them and my personal experience? ---- Note: California in general, and a handful of other universities do seems to have more than their share of professors who “rant and write.” I ignore them, as so do most Americans.
If they were really “rightist or leftist political believers” they wouldn’t be living comfortably and safely in America, which fortunately for them, protects their "right to rant." If they were true believers in the political systems they defend, then they would be writing while living in the fascist or communist country of their choice, which would probably not protect their "right to rant."
Remember the wise old proverb, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Or simply consider what is “newsworthy in America today.” Do our media outlets tell us about the normal, average, healthy, moderate, everyday, perfectly reasonable, speeches, activities, choices, attitudes, and political inclinations of “most people” much less, “most professors?”
Commercial Media or News-tainment!!
No, the media in general do not inform us about the normal, average, typical and reasonable, and this should not surprise or shock us, but we should keep it in mind when using the media as a source of information. Their profits are based on the extreme, the inflammatory, the abnormal, the hyper hysterical exaggerated version of almost everything. About 80% of what is selected and promoted as news-worthy does not remotely represent reality. In order to garner market share (which translate into profits for the parent companies) news organizations latch onto and promote the exceptional, the unusual, the non-typical. I am not saying they are evil, but it is what they do.
For example, I have given many presentations, colloquiums, public speeches, etc., on all sorts of historical topics, but not once has the press shown up. However, if a Visiting Professor came to a university in Atlanta to speak on the Kindness of Stalin, the Virtues of Mussolini, the Moderate Politics of Fidel Castro, or the Four Wives of Politician ABC …. you and I both know the reporters would be there and it would hit the newspapers, radio stations, local television networks and maybe even some national media outlets. That speech, that professor would still be the exception and not the rule. He/she would still be the 5-10% not the 90%.
Now there are a few media productions, whose audience is small and they are not as dependent on profits…sometimes we can get the balanced, non–inflammatory, less hysterical story or explanation there, but not very often. The balanced opinion, as you as a scholar know, is to be found by reading a variety of articles and books produced by companies and outlets where there is very little expectation of profit.
Remove the profit motive and journalists, researchers, scholars, and historians are much more likely to produce sensible, balanced works based on extended research, not based on the key interest, anxiety, and hysteria-producing buzz words used by so much of the media. Much of what we hear and see reported by the media has little to do with reality. Ninety percent of university faculty may be moderates, but you will see footage on the nightly news of the "one or two" extremists. Even good news coverage is by definition skewed -- routine, everyday normal behaviors and events are not newsworthy.
Oppression, Terror and Murder on the Left and the Right
James A. Watkins -- "After all, if you buy this idea, there were murderers on the Right and on the Left."
Yes, I do buy this very idea exactly as you have laid it out. I am firmly convinced that what we should fear the most is not the left or the right; we should all fear most the political extremists on the left and the right. To examine the previous and current centuries, do any of us really imagine that most of the reactionary Islamicist regimes of the Middle East and South East Asia, belong on the left? Do they claim to be communist? Are they in structure and practice communist?
In many Islamicist regimes, the means of production and profit are controlled by a few private citizens or families, a form of capitalism often practiced by fascist parties, regimes, and governments on the far right of the political spectrum. Many of the Islamacist regimes are veritable engines of terror, abuse, persecution, and murder. So, absolutely, there are murderers to be found on the far right and the far left. There always have been, and sadly it seems as if there may always be.
NOTE: Hopefully, in the future I will have time to address the remainder of Mr. Watkins questions and discuss the "economically based and derived "rationale behind the political spectrum used here to describe modern governments. I welcome the opportunity for a civil, rational, respectful conversation. Such conversations are one of the hallmark's of James Watkins discourse. Many thanks to James for being a participant in the conversation, and to each of you for joining in.