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Monday, July 21, 2008

Profiles in Courage; Or, Tenure By Another Name

While I'm copping stuff from the NYT Week in Review section, I also enjoyed yesterday's piece on think-tank conservatives rethinking conservatism. Not so much for its content, which has been written about elsewhere, but for this kicker:

Indeed, to [libertarian blogger Megan] McArdle, the possibility of a Republican defeat holds a certain romantic appeal. “Younger people are kind of excited about being in the wilderness,” she said, evoking the pre-Reagan years when Republican thinkers plotted their revolution at nonprofit organizations and in bars instead of in the Executive Office Building and congressional majority offices. The longer you’re in power, the more you want to preserve it. “That’s where the Republicans are right now, and it’s demoralizing for think tankers.” Desperation has a way of focusing the mind. As Ms. McArdle said, “When they’re out of power, they have to think in a clearer way.”

If I may generalize slightly, one sees lots of standard criticisms of the institution of tenure online, and with particular frequency among online writers and commenters of a conservative leaning. Some of those critics hold out think tanks as worthy alternatives to the modern university. Although I think many of the most common criticisms of tenure are weak, I'm all for criticizing that institution. But tenure and its weaknesses -- self-satisfaction, the lack of meaningful metrics for good work or consequences for bad work, etc. -- are present in all kinds of shapes and forms. Some version of those weaknesses will be inevitable wherever ambition, intellectualism, hucksterism, easy money, and laziness cohabit. And I couldn't find a better expression of that conclusion than the amusing view that a sinecure at a DC think tank, as opposed to a job at the EOB, is life "in the wilderness."

Posted by Paul Horwitz on July 21, 2008 at 10:57 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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