The Sociologist as Ethical Entrepreneur

Jonathan B. Imber, the Jean Glasscock professor of sociology at Wellesley and editor of Society, offered a tribute in the April 27 Chronicle of Higher Education to Irving Louis Horowitz, who died last month at the age of 82. Horowitz, a renowned sociologist, was the founder of Society, and a major academic publisher. An excerpt:

When Society published a controversial work by the Canadian psychologist J. Philippe Rushton on psychometrics and race, citing racial differences in intelligence, it experienced the full brunt of how profoundly both universities and professional associations had been captured by the ideological demands of political correctness, which meant the shutting down of debate altogether. .. Irving bravely defended the ideal of publishing contentious ideas. In a response in Society, he answered, “The position of a social science should be unequivocal in the presentation of information: to support unpleasant and innovative opinions even when they go against the grain of current prejudices is at the core of liberal society.”

Because many academics, including many sociologists, could not grasp the possibility that debate rather than silence was the price paid for true academic freedom, “last resort” (Society) emerged as a badge of honor among a cadre of writers who saw themselves evermore in dissent with the prevailing orthodoxies of political correctness. There are rays of light emerging in some fields today, including behavioral economics and evolutionary psychology; and we see the willingness on the part of some leading figures to distinguish between their political opinions and the pursuit of truth.

But sociology, alas, remains largely a backwater. You can see that in professional publishing, with pronouncements that assure the discipline’s irrelevance: arguments not about ideas but about the representation of women and minorities. Irving conscientiously ignored such representational requirements, always more interested in what was written than who was writing.

John Leo

John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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