“Why”, asked Co-Editor Laura Perrins on 22 August, “should you risk sending your children to university for a full three years of left-wing propaganda?”
For the parents of a young adult raised in any household inclined, even moderately, towards social conservatism, EU-withdrawal, a smaller state, lower taxes and free-market economics, this is an increasingly pertinent question. Higher Education and Academe as a bastion of left-wing indoctrination is an impression that’s widely held.
But to what extent is it true? Fortunately, we have some empirical data from within the last two years. The chart below shows the results of a poll taken shortly before the 2015 General Election, asking for the voting intentions of UK University academics.
The responses leave little room for doubt. In no discipline did the intention to vote Labour drop below 40%, while you have to go as low as 20% in every academic discipline before even encountering a voting intention other than Labour or Green.
Overall, the academics’ voting intention went 83% to the four main parties of the Left (Labour, LibDems, SNP and Green), while in the General Election proper, those parties’ vote share was only 47%. In other words, university academics inclined towards parties of the Left at a frequency nearly double that of the electorate as a whole.
A similar poll of UK academics’ voting intentions was conducted in the run-up to the 2016 EU Referendum, by Times Higher Education. Here, the results were even starker.
In no discipline was the intention to vote Remain below 80%, while in only one did the intention to vote Leave breach the 15% threshhold. As everyone knows, the result was 52%-48% for Leave. Once again the academics leant Remain-wards at a rate more than 1½ times that of the voting population.
So, on the face of it at least, the opinion of a University experience as being an academic indoctrination process in Europhilia and Leftism has evidential support. If you have the impression that your child has emerged from University as a brainwashed, ardently-Europhile, Leftist, you’re probably right.
But what seems explored much more rarely is why this should be so. Why should the supposedly academic and intellectual elite overwhelmingly incline towards leftist and statist policy prescriptions that concentrate decision-making power in bureaucracy rather than democracy, and reject those which elevate liberal-individualism and free-market competition, at a rate nearly double the adult population as a whole?
This phenomenon isn't new. Hayek analysed and excoriated it decades ago in his "The Intellectuals and Socialism", famously referring to “the professional second-hand dealers in ideas”.
The Academic and Intellectual Elite has an aversion politically to capitalism and free-market competition because, being a system based on voluntary exchange reflecting consumer preferences, it fails to accord them either the superior societal status or monetary rewards to which they consider themselves entitled because of their (assumed) far superior intellect.
Arguably, Robert Nozick put it even better in his 1998 essay “Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?”
“Intellectuals feel they are the most valuable people, the ones with the highest merit, and that society should reward people in accordance with their value and merit.”
This is especially marked when they compare themselves with people successful at designing, producing and marketing products that people will voluntarily part with their hard-earned and post-tax cash to own. Think of how much more popular in the public mind James Dyson is than A C Grayling. The old disdain for “trade” has crossed over from the Aristocratic Landed Elite to the Intellectual Academic Elite.
Consequently, they incline, politically, away from free-markets democracy towards the more collectivist politics of markets-averse, leftist-statist bureaucracy: it not only values them more than competitive free-market capitalism does, but it can use the coercive power of the state manifested in taxation to enforce on society at least a pecuniary recognition of their assumed superior intellect and desired superior status.
This also explains their near-homogeneous support for remaining in the European Union. Academics and intellectuals favour the EU, not only as an additional source of funding, but as an essentially socialistic, authoritarian, top-down bureaucracy, they view it as a mechanism to push the UK further to the left without the necessity of mass democratic consent.
For how long do the academics’ and intellectuals’ pro-Left, pro-EU biases continue to influence their recipients’ voting behaviours after inculcation? A YouGov poll earlier this year suggested that the Left-Right crossover point comes roughly at age 34.
However, more recently, Iain Martin has written of “the widespread assumption among those aged below 45 that Tories or pro-market people are an inherently bad bunch with motives that are inherently evil”. The Tories’ current intellectual atrophy, particularly in making the case for capitalism and free markets, sadly suggests that this is more accurate.