What Does Someone’s Voting Record Tell you About his or her Scholarship?If I voted for Bush, would my scholarship suddenly become conservative? If I voted for Nader, would it become radical? If I did not vote at all, would my research be best described as “apathetic?”
I understand that someone’s political leanings can profoundly affect their scholarship. But I am still highly suspicious of the idea that we can know how “intellectually diverse” they make a university based on how they vote or what party they are in. For example, Robert Nozick is perhaps one of the most famous political philosophers in the modern world. He is particularly famous for his very strong and methodical defense of property rights. A strong defense of personal property is currently considered to be a fairly “conservative” position, as it tends to cut against the “liberal” welfare state. This would seem to make Nozick a conservative. But, Nozick also thought his argument implied that it very well might be the case that Native Americans should get their property back. This is a position which I think would make him a radical.
I could think of plenty of other examples where the political implications of scholarship cut in more than one direction. Do new studies that focus on ordinary people in the Civil Rights Movement provide a strong argument for gun rights? Does a book about how businesses collude with government provide a compelling argument for a small state? Do studies about the power of religion as a cultural and social force provide backing for the religious right?
When I reflect on the political implications of my own ideas about history, I honestly do not know what they are. I suppose that my conclusions are vaguely anti-imperialist, but that could be an opinion on the left or the right. I do not doubt that my personal politics affect my scholarship. But I do not think the explain it. And I do not think my scholarship explains my politics.