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The politics of sociology

Consider the following quote:

Sociology has recently been subject to a severe critique by Alvin Gouldner (1970), who has repeated and sought to document the charge that the theoretical orientations fostered by Talcott Parsons carry conservative implications and have been dominant within the field. Such arguments now fall on fertile soil. A large number, especially among the younger and more left-wing sociologists, echo the claim that the major trends in the field sustain a conservative view of society and are basically biased against radical social change. The caucus of left-wing sociologists, the Sociology Liberation Movement, has been perhaps the most aggressive and critical among those leftist academics within various professional associations (Brown 1970; Roach 1970; Nicolaus 1969).

This was written in a 1972 paper, but it is still hard to believe someone could be this deluded about their own field of expertise. But then again, Noam Chomsky did write a book in 1988 claiming that the media are actually pro-conservatism. The 1972 paper argued, using extensive survey data, that sociology is indeed a leftist, even Marxist, academic field (The Politics of American Sociologists). It is perhaps one of the first such papers. Based on a very large survey from 1969, they produced the following results:

The scales are based on multi-item political scales and the scores were derived using factor analysis, so they are probably fairly reliable measures of these 3 dimensions (though they an orthogonal solution). Of these 16 fields, sociology was the most leftist, beating even anthropology and social work.

But fear not, the sociologist under attack (Alvin Gouldner) had a defense ready: the dominant minority of sociologists were more conservative than average, so really sociology is a force for conservatism. He had a student run a big survey hoping to confirm this. Instead of publishing the study in its completeness, though, they only released a single finding cherry-picked to confirm their view. Fortunately, the writers of the above paper were able to track down the dissertation, which revealed that the exact opposite pattern held: the more dominant members were more, not less, leftist. As the authors put it:

The 1964 survey was explicitly designed to locate the “domain assumptions” of sociologists. Yet all through The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology (1970) Gouldner continues to identify as the “domain assumptions” of sociology positions which, in 1964, he had found were not adhered to by the majority of sociologists and were particularly rejected by the most productive and most rewarded scholars.

This kind of dishonesty may remind you of how Robert Putnam (also a sociologist) withheld the results of his big survey designed to prove that diversity is our strength was good for social trust, while it showed the opposite, and then later lied in court about its findings.

How many sociologists are actually communists in some form or another (Marxist, socialist, communist, “radicals”)? These old surveys don’t seem to have the data to answer this. On Twitter I talked to Jesse Callahan Bryant, a “Sociolog[ist] studying the far-right”, about this. He took issue with my statement that:

There are more communists in sociology than conservatives so it is a very, very one sided show. Why does the tax payer have to finance the show? It’s more akin to a political think tank.
In his words:
as a sociologist myself, i can tell you that there are very few communists and also very few conservatives in sociology

In reply, I posted a 2005 survey showing there were 21 Democrat voters per Republican voters among American sociologists-anthropologists i.e., they vote slightly more than 95% left-wing:

But he wasn’t convinced because:

Yep, I’ve seen this graph a ton of times. I just reject your loose use of the term communism, in the same way people on the left call every conservative a fascist. just holding you to your own standard of “clear language.” in the USA, most dems are neolibs not communists.

He is right in a nit-picky way. It is theoretically possible that sociologists are heavily left-wing, but somehow avoid the furthest left. But I smelled blood, so I dug up another survey from around 2010 (The social and political views of American college and university professors, by Neil Gross & Solon Simmons, 2014), containing this table:

The authors add:

The table indicates that self-identified Marxists are rare in academe today. The highest proportion of Marxist academics can be found in the social sciences, and there they represent less than 18 percent of all professors (among the social science fields for which we can issue discipline-specific estimates, sociology contains the most Marxists, at 25.5 percent). In the humanities and social sciences, about one quarter of professors consider themselves radicals or activists. Consistent with our earlier claim that the number of moderates in academe appears to be growing, we find that self-described radicalism is much more common among professors who came of age in the 1960s than among younger ones, suggesting significant generational change.

Unfortunately, the full table of Marxist (in various forms) is not given by detailed field. Still, since not even all voters for the Republicans are conservatives (many are independents or libertarians), and they constitute at most 5% of sociologists, and there are 25% Marxists, the ratio of Marxists to conservatives must be at least 5 to 1. To be fair to Jesse, in his reply he then agreed that my statement was empirically substantiated.

From a broader perspective, the interesting thing about sociology being so leftist and even communist, is that they often engage in a two-faced communication approach, as neatly pointed out by Bradley Campbell (also a sociologist):

American Sociological Association, when announcing this year’s theme: “The 2024 theme emphasizes sociology as a form of liberatory praxis: an effort to not only understand structural inequities, but to intervene in socio-political struggles.”

American Sociological Association, when responding to [Florida under DeSantis] eliminating sociology as a core course: “The decision seems to be coming not from an informed perspective… To the contrary, sociology is the scientific study of social life, social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behavior….”

You can’t make this stuff up!

He supplies the evidence. First, their conference announcement:

Second, a quote from an article where a sociologist shrieks in the NYT after the defunding:

Why do they lie like this? It’s because they know that if the public were to know just how leftist most academics are, and what they want to do, broad segments of the public would defund the fields of politics pretending to be science. Indeed, we know from surveys that people trust scientists less the more they perceive them to be politically different from themselves. These results are forthcoming in a paper I am working on with my colleagues, but they are also rather obvious. As the great awokening has made it increasingly clear to voters that academia has a large over-representation of the insane and communists, conservative voters accordingly and reasonably downgrade their trust in “the experts”:

This state of affairs poses some serious questions for us all and for the communists in academia:

  1. As a society, we benefit from having relatively unrestricted science looking in all sorts of directions without an Orwellian political regime deciding what is allowed and what is not. But it seems in reality that if we have no controls on politics, it gets out of hand to the point where fields need to be entirely defunded. What to do here? Is there a way to save a classically liberal, hands off approach to science?
  2. As a communist or merely leftist academic, you want to increase your share among the faculty so that you gain more social power (“march through the institutions”), but you don’t want this to be visible because that leads to the public not trusting your expertise. So you have to pretend to be objective scientists “just looking at the data”, while actually promoting communism/leftism in various forms. In other words, a classic communist front. As a corollary, you will want to attack people who do surveys of your field to point out the two-faced approach.

The approach of most non-left-wing intellectuals so far has been to play the game ‘fairly’, that is, don’t defund anything, but try to promote free speech, academic freedom and so on. This approach has entirely failed. As such, a more hard-nosed defunding approach has come to be favored by some. If the beast cannot be controlled, then it is better to kill it than to wait for the damage. I can’t say that I disagree, but I find it distasteful to defund entire fields because they attract the wrong people in large numbers. Sociology is truly a fascinating field from a scientific perspective, and I am sure much more interesting research could be produced if it was full of politically diverse, smart people instead of being a kind of communist front. Certainly, some fields produce essentially nothing of value, not even in theory (gender studies, ethnic studies), are these are ripe for defunding, while others like sociology should be saved if they can be. Are political quotas really the only option remaining? Post your other ideas in the comments.


  • Surveys of sociologists from the 1950s to 2020s show that it is an extremely left-wing field even by comparison with other academic social science fields.
  • Surveys that include explicit questions about communism are hard to find, but one such survey found that 25% of sociologists identified as “Marxists”, which was the highest among any field in the survey.
  • Other data shows that the public is still largely ignorant of the extremity of leftism among professors, but that among those who are aware, are much less trusting of professors and science in general.
  • Leftist sociologists, like other academics (e.g. psychologists), play a two-faced game where they seek to dominate their fields to maximize influence, while at the same time trying to appear as mere objective scientists to the public, so they don’t get defunded or lose social influence.
  • There doesn’t appear to be any known political methods that is consistent with classical liberal values of free inquiry that doesn’t result in an extreme political imbalance in academic fields like sociology.