According to Irving Babbitt, a professor at Harvard University in the 1920s, the spirit of his time was “the positive and critical spirit, the spirit that refuses to take things on authority.” It sounds a lot like our contemporary sentiment, doesn’t it? However, there is one great difference. Babbitt was a staunch conservative, as were many of the leading intellectuals of his day: T. S Eliot, Evelyn Waugh, Wallace Stevens, Alan Tate, etc.
To believe that smart people then just didn’t know as much as smart people now is an example of chronological snobbery—an assumption that because we have progressed in some things we have progressed in all things. While it may be true that if those scholars lived today they would be liberal, it is because liberalism is woven into the social fabric of knowledge currently on display at universities. It is not because it couldn’t be otherwise. It is the very fact that they would indeed be liberal (and that today’s professors could likely have been conservative if they lived then) that makes the whole point.
It is simply wrong to believe that professors tend to be liberal because professors are smarter than everyone else. It comes down to the same identity issues we’re all dealing with. That’s why all my English professors owned Mac laptops even though the only program they ever used was Word. Why, with a professor’s salary, would you pay an extra thousand dollars for a Mac when Word is native to Windows?