March 17, 2011

JAMES TARANTO ON BRIAN LEITER AND ANN ALTHOUSE:

The reason we find Leiter’s comments amusing rather than disgusting is that we, unlike Althouse, are not part of academia and thus have no personal investment in the ideal of disinterested and honest scholarship. Rather than offend our ideals, Leiter reinforces our stereotype of academia as being filled with fools and knaves. You can see why this would bother Althouse, a scholar who does not fit the disparaging stereotype.

Althouse’s emotional reaction to Leiter’s comments is similar to ours when the New York Times publishes blatantly slanted stories on its news pages or outright lies on its opinion pages. Those are our professional standards the Times is transgressing. Some of our readers thought our outrage at the Times naive; we would say that, like Althouse’s disgust with Leiter, it was merely idealistic. It is possible to be knowing without being cynical.

It’s sad that Brian Leiter seems to put so much effort into reinforcing — or, perhaps the proper term is “embodying” — right-wing stereotypes regarding the academy. For those of us who still possess some ideals, it’s disappointing. But it’s hard to argue with this point; “Leiter wouldn’t be acting like such a crybaby if he weren’t losing this argument.” Leiter is — to the amusement of many of his fellow legal academics and philosophers — exquisitely concerned with reputation. But reputation is maintained by conduct.