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The Political Economy of the College Right

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by nikolayhg, via pixabay

Apropos Paul’s quick post about how the University of Chicago is (not) dealing with targeted harassment against one of its teaching fellows, Henry Farrell wrote a good post from back in March about how right-wing organizations foster (and reward) bomb throwing:

I first came across [Amy] Binder through her book with Kate Wood, Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives. That book came out back in 2013. It agrees with [Princeton senior and New York Times op-ed writer Adam S.] Hoffman on one important thing. There has been a shift in campus conservative activism, from “conservative campus organizations and actors [that] favor a more erudite style of political discussion” to ones “which are often very well funded” and “thrive on confrontation.” The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which focused on “seminars on moral and political philosophy” has found itself being outmaneuvered by more confrontational groups such as Young America’s Foundation, the Leadership Institute (associated with the recently disgraced James O’Keefe) and Turning Point USA.

However, as the book’s publication date suggests, this shift began to take hold years before the Great Awokening. And Binder and Wood provided persuasive evidence that the shift had far less to do with what was happening on college campuses than changes in the broader conservative movement. There was money – and lots of it – for organizations that were willing to take the culture war to America’s universities, creating an entire political economy.

The later consequences are described in The Channels of Student Activism, a more recent academic book, published by Binder and Jeff Kidder last year. While Binder and Kidder are sympathetic to Haidt’s broad program of reform, they push back with evidence against his causal argument. People like George Lukianoff and Haidt “point fingers at the supposed shortcomings of Generation Z,” blaming the purported psychological frailty of an entire generation. Binder and Kidder find that the evidence points towards organizations as the key factors of change. Students “are channeled not coddled,” provided with incentives, identities and even entire career paths by political organizations.

None of what Henry talks about will be news to readers of Lawyers, Guns and Money. But his summary is well worth your time — and, for what it’s worth, I’ve ordered the books he discusses.

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