Saturday, October 01, 2022

The Counterrevolution Eats Its Own: Conservatives Turn On Yale Law Conservatives

A few years ago, I had the distinctly bizarre experience of being the target of a particularly devoted internet troll.

The interesting thing about him, though, was that he initially presented himself as an ally. He saw that I was publicly Jewish and was (at the time) a graduate student at UC-Berkeley, and was eager to hear tale of how horrible my life must be, stuck in such an antisemitic cesspool as Berkeley.

I answered honestly: my experience was mixed. There were definite problems with being Jewish at Berkeley, and I had little patience for those who denied it. I had some discomforting encounters, and I had a particularly tense relationship with my own graduate student union. But at the same time, being Jewish at Berkeley also was not nearly as bad as sometimes portrayed in the media. Berkeley is a big place, and every department is different. What happens in the anthropology department didn't necessarily travel to my home in the political science department. There were professors I had read about who had done terribly antisemitic things, but I had never met them (again, big place!). And my professors were generally quite supportive of my work on antisemitism, even when it may have clashed with some presumed progressive shibboleths. On the whole, the portrayal of Berkeley as a sort of warzone for Jews, where one could not reveal one's faith or (God forbid!) interest in Israel and antisemitism without being ripped to pieces by ones peers, was quite far from my experience; even as I could not say either that there was no fire whatsoever behind the smoke. As I said: a mixed experience.

This, I rapidly found out, was the wrong answer. My interlocutor quickly decided that the only way I could be a Jew at Berkeley and not be beaten down, miserable, and ready to flee for my life was if I was an antisemitic sympathizer myself. And so, a troll was born.

I'm reminded of this story via Josh Blackman's defense of Judge James Ho's announcement that, going forward, he will refuse to hire any Yale Law School graduates as clerks. Judge Ho objects to what he sees as Yale's indulgence of a campus protest culture which he believes has created a toxic and unproductive intellectual climate for campus conservatives. His boycott is an effort to induce and/or coerce Yale into adopting a harsher line (one wonders, if the boycott fails, will divestment and sanctions follow?).

The immediate irony, of course, is that the students most directly effected by Judge Ho's announcements are the putative victims of the campus culture he decries -- the beleaguered Yale Law conservatives. After all, the presumably liberal protesters likely were neither applying to nor would have been hired by Judge Ho even before now. And the irony goes deeper. Refusing to evaluate applicants from Yale "as individuals" and instead impute to them the sins of their broader group rests uneasily with the putative meritocratic individualism extolled by Ho and his allies. After all, isn't it precisely that form of rugged individualism that at least allegedly marks off the core of Ho's ideological disagreement with Yale liberals? Perhaps, channeling Ilya Shapiro, we might ask whether, by enacting a preemptive group-based exclusion that limits the pool of candidates to be considered, Judge Ho has ensured that the "lesser" clerks he does hire "will always have an asterisk attached" to their accomplishment (surprising no one, Shapiro has enthusiastically endorsed Ho's decision to depart from strictly individualist meritocratic consideration).

But so it goes. Perhaps these Yale conservatives, though victims, must necessarily be victimized still further for the greater good. Excluding them is a necessary sacrifice for the cause of restoring Yale's good name and academic reputation. There may be bigger values at stake here that meritocratic individualism.

Enter Blackman. Blackman does not view Yale conservatives as victims. Blackman wants them to know that they deserve what's coming to them. They deserve to be excluded, they are getting no more than their just deserts. 

How can this be? And how can it be reconciled with allegedly defending Yale Law conservatives from the predations of their peers?

The answer is simple. Blackman thinks there is one and only one reason why a conservative student would attend Yale in the year 2022: because they're prestige whores. That, to Blackman, is the singular and defining feature of a Yale conservative. And as prestige whores they can and should be punished for their failure of moral character.

That's harsh, but that's the argument. Read for yourself:

Imagine you are a senior in college. You were accepted to Yale Law School, as well as several other top-tier schools. Mazal tov! Now you have a choice. How do you choose between Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Chicago, and Virginia? Perhaps there are financial constraints–some schools may give more aid than others. There may also be personal constraints, such as the need to be close to family. More likely than not, neither of these factors would tip in favor of Yale. I doubt that YLS gives substantially more generous financial aid packages, and New Haven is a pain to get to. Instead, I think an applicant would choose Yale over those other schools because of prestige....

Knowing how inhospitable Yale is to conservatives, why would an applicant still pick Yale over other more tolerant places? The answer, again, is prestige. And the desire to obtain that prestige trumps a commitment to values like free speech and academic openness.

How, then, should a judge assess a conservative applicant who chooses to go to Yale? This person knowingly walked into the traphouse for the sake of an elite degree. I think it is reasonable for a judge to conclude that the applicant exercised poor professional judgment. Indeed, the judge may not want to rely on someone who would sacrifice their principles for prestige. In this regard, the Judge would choose to not hire any conservative YLS graduates because they are unreliable, and maybe even untrustworthy. They have already sold out on their values to go to YLS, and will likely sell out in similar ways in the future. In this view, choosing to go to Yale, with full information, is a failure of moral character.

There are, of course, many reasons why a conservative student might elect to choose Yale over Harvard or other competitors. Perhaps there are particular professors they are eager to work with and learn from. Perhaps they are attracted to Yale's small size. Perhaps they are eager to test their beliefs inside a true bastion of liberalism (this, running in the opposite direction, was part of why liberal me decided to attend the University of Chicago, with its reputation as a conservative citadel). Or perhaps -- and I suspect this is the most unforgivable sin of all -- they do not find Yale's intellectual climate to be quite as inhospitable as it is portrayed in the sensationalist media. Perhaps they, while being conservative, disagree with the conservative orthodoxy on this subject. Perhaps they've come to a different conclusion from the "politically correct" answer, just as I came to my own conclusions about the state of life of being a Jew at Berkeley.

But just as with my assessment of Berkeley, all of these are, of course, the wrong answers. If you are a conservative and you are not fleeing Yale as fast as your legs will take you, the only explanation is you are a morally bankrupt sellout. As Blackman illustrates, there is no tolerance for deviation from the right-wing orthodoxy on this point. If you are a conservative and you do not subscribe to this orthodoxy via your continued attendance at Yale, you are a villain, you are a traitor, you are a RINO, you are an enemy of the movement, and you deserve what is coming to you. And this from the supposed allies of conservatives on campus! How quickly the alleged defenders of intellectual heterodoxy collapse back into singular, ideologically convenient explanations which can brook no departure.

We have seen how quickly alleged concern for "free speech" on campus collapses into calls for censorship, ostracization, and exclusion that dwarfs any of original sins allegedly enacted against campus speech in the first place. This is of a piece with that trend. The counterrevolution eats its own. It always has, and it always will.


ExClerk said...

Historically, judges have de facto blacklisted a host of schools other than Yale. Most schools other than Yale, in fact. Clerkship hiring from Yale and a few other elite institutions has entrenched their power and made them valuable. And how do they marshal that power and leverage that value? Maliciously. They hate and aim to harm the country that trusts and enriches them. So their power should be taken away. And this is a valuable populist project even if you aren't a conservative. Just like some morally deserving or morally blameless folks are hurt by progressive taxation, so too a few privileged law students might see their clerkship options narrowed. The overall goal is a good one.

David Schraub said...

Assuming one believes all those premises (and needless to say, I don't), this argument -- that the blanket boycott of Yale grads irrespective of their individual merits is justifiable for the greater good, notwithstanding that it punishes "some morally deserving or morally blameless folks" (indeed, the very "folks" who supposedly are most *victimized* by Yale's alleged behavior and on whose behalf the anti-Yale backlashers supposedly are operating!) -- is precisely the one that Blackman is rejecting.

Blackman's entire point is to say that the conservative students at Yale Law are not innocent and are not blameless, but are in fact soulless prestige whores who are rightfully being punished for their personal moral failings. Conservative YLSers are, for Blackman, part of the enemy class. If you disagree with that sentiment, you disagree with Blackman.

For my part, I am utterly unsurprised to see the counterrevolution eat its own, and betray the conservative students it purports to protect.

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