October 17, 2004
Schwarzschild's Theorem Or Amis' Law?

Maimon Schwarzschild of The Right Coast wonders how Brian Leiter can be so smart about philosophy (I'll have to take his word on that) and so dumb about politics (he puts it much more politely):

I have a tentative Schwarzschild Theorem to explain this sort of thing: that capable people tend to be conservative about what they know best and do most, even when they are theoretically radical about things that are further removed from their immediate knowledge and their primary concerns. Brian is a good example: he may be a Chomsky-an, or a quasi-Marxist, but as the author of the best-informed and shrewdest rankings of philosophy departments and law schools, he is light-years away from being an "egalitarian" or a leveller. There are lots of people like this: people who have no utopian illusions whatsoever about their work, or about rearing their children, but who hold utopian, or at least silly views (from TheRightCoast point of view, of course) about politics.

The theorem is not original, though a proof would be impressive. Here's a comment I wrote for Bill Quick almost two years ago that seems worth recycling. He was looking for a list of such laws, and the entire thread is well worth reading. My comment is about half-way down:

Here are two more:

1. Kingsley Amis liked to quote this one from (I think) Robert Conquest:

Any organization that is not explicitly right-wing becomes left-wing over time.

It's quoted from memory, so the wording may be a bit off.

2. Here's one from Amis himself (again quoted from memory, and probably less accurately):

Everyone is conservative about things he knows about first-hand.

He was talking about education: Amis first started turning to the right when he was teaching and found that left-wing educational thought was not particularly grounded in reality.

I'll try to find authoritative versions of both quotations when I have the time.

Unfortunately, I still haven't had the time, and my books are all in storage at the moment. But the second semi-quotation shows that Schwarzschild's Theorem is just another name for Amis' Law. Or perhaps Amis' Nth Law, since some of his other apophthegms are equally pithy -- and true. Time to root through my rented store-room and pull out the box of Amis books? According to my map, I would only have to move two pieces of furniture and three other boxes to get to it.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at October 17, 2004 08:49 PM

'Any organization that is not explicitly right-wing becomes left-wing over time.'

Is this Amis/Conquest? It's great! Ford Foundation. MacArthur Foundation. Well done.

Posted by: old maltese on October 18, 2004 02:12 AM

I think those are both Conquest lines, respectively, Conquest's Second and First Laws. The First was inspired directly by Kingsley, hence his delight in it, but I neither are his own creation per se. I don't have access to my copy of K.'s Memoirs at the moment, but he goes into both in his chapter on R.C.

Posted by: Evan McElravy on October 27, 2004 10:17 PM

BTW, in the first Law, it is "reactionary," not "conservative." An important distinction.

Posted by: Evan McElravy on October 27, 2004 10:18 PM