Center for the Comparative Study of Right Wing Movements, University of California, Berkeley

Posted: Sep 14, 2009 2:57 PM
At first glance, this thing has "pinkos on a new conservative witch hunt" written all over it. I mean, first you have to get past the name Center for the Comparative Study of Right Wing Movements, which in itself implies that American conservatism can summarily be reduced to "right wingers," which in common discourse means "fringe extremists who should be shot on sight." Then there's the fact that it's based out of the University of California at Berkeley, which isn't exactly what you'd call an bastion of unbiased academia.

But then I read Mark Lila's commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is a really poignant and certainly realistic take on the state of conservatism in American academia.
My brightest conservative students, brought up on hair-raising tales of political correctness, dismiss academic careers out of hand because they are certain of not being hired or getting tenure. And I can't say I blame them. Even as an ex-conservative, I was lucky to have passed through the eyes of those two needles.
In the end, Lila gives the new Center his "ex-conservative blessing."
If nothing else, it will get professors and students to discuss ideas and read books that until now have been relegated to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. That's a start. And who knows, maybe Berkeley will even begin hiring conservative professors, if only to preserve its reputation as "the birthplace of transformative social movements."
Adding to the evidence that this Center might not be so bad is the man chosen for its head of operations. Lawrence Rosenthal comes from the Chapman University School of Law, which in itself is conservative - encouraging! Rosenthal's lawyerly writings have sprouted from solid, respectable legal journals, meaning that he's probably not going to be doing that much witch-hunting. But a cursory examination of those writings pegs him as a leftie. And after a little more poking around, I'm a little scared by the types of events he's putting on. "Contesting and Understanding the Right: Beyond the Academy," featured the following speakers:
  • Ellen Gertzog, Director, Affiliate Security, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
  • Eunice C. Lee, Attorney, Equal Justice Works Fellow, American Civil Liberties Union
  • Peter Montgomery, Foundation Senior Fellow, People for the American Way
Affiliate Security for Planned Parenthood? I.e., they're going to be understanding American conservatism from the vantage point of someone who exclusively deals with conservative extremists who despicably employ violence to protest policy? Granted, I did not attend the lecture, but my guess is you'd have to be smoking some doobie if you think you're going to get an accurate representation of the American right by talking to any of these guys.

Then there's the Center's own mission statement.
With the end of the cold war, anti-communism was spent as a unifying force. Pent-up for decades, particular right-wing movements now spun on to the political stage with centripetal energy. In a few cases, these groups have managed to find a basis for alliance and have come to power. Others have created chaotic international hot spots.
Lila recognizes the troubles with this, saying "It is a convenient left-wing dodge to reduce 20th-century American conservatism to cold-war politics, since it implies that conservative ideas are embedded in a world that no longer exists and never should have." But I'd go a bit further. This statement -- the Center's fundamental creed -- draws a direct line from anti-communism to chaos. And anything that's founded on making their main focus of study (conservatives) into a bunch of dangerous rabble-rousers has to be kidding themselves if they think they're anything but the same.
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