Friday, April 21, 2017

A New Pogrom Targeting Academia?

I am tired of reading assaults about the ill-liberalism of the academy.

For example, The Wall Street Journal's tirades against the academy have been amped-up recently, with several editorials published weekly attacking academics for their cultural relativity.

This week David Brooks launched his own offensive against the academy, arguing in absurd fashion that academics are responsible for the rise of authoritarianism by problematizing the Western enlightenment narrative:
David Brooks (April 21, 2017). The Crisis of Western Civilization. The New York Times,

…This Western civ narrative came with certain values — about the importance of reasoned discourse, the importance of property rights, the need for a public square that was religiously informed but not theocratically dominated. It set a standard for what great statesmanship looked like. It gave diverse people a sense of shared mission and a common vocabulary, set a framework within which political argument could happen and most important provided a set of common goals.

Starting decades ago, many people, especially in the universities, lost faith in the Western civilization narrative. They stopped teaching it, and the great cultural transmission belt broke. Now many students, if they encounter it, are taught that Western civilization is a history of oppression.

It’s amazing what far-reaching effects this has had. It is as if a prevailing wind, which powered all the ships at sea, had suddenly ceased to blow. Now various scattered enemies of those Western values have emerged, and there is apparently nobody to defend them.
The first consequence has been the rise of the illiberals, authoritarians who not only don’t believe in the democratic values of the Western civilization narrative, but don’t even pretend to believe in them, as former dictators did.
Brooks simply demonstrates his own ignorance of what goes on in the academy that he criticizes for rejecting western values. Indeed, the vast majority of critical scholarship in the academy seeks to redress the gap between liberal values of liberty, justice and equality on the one hand and illiberal, unjust, and unequal institutions and practices in society on the other hand.

In my own work on liberalism (e.g., see here ) I point out exactly these contradictions with the aim of promoting liberal reform. Liberalism must reform itself or it shall lapse into some sort of totalitarianism, either by corporations or government or some hybridized variant.

[Karl Marx was far too optimistic while Orwell and Huxley seem prescient]

I believe a new form of pogrom is being fomented against academics.

Across the twentieth century, authoritarian leaders and organizations targeted academia as they consolidated power because academia is a center of educated thinkers who have been taught to think critically about the production and effects of knowledge-truth.

Although academics mostly are preoccuppied in their academic silos, they have the capacity to challenge the legitimacy of authoritarian truths issued by political and economic authorities.

This capacity makes them dangerous for authoritarians. Academics must therefore be subverted or coerced.

Coercion doesn't even have to come from the state. By inciting anger against academics, the puppet masters can have others enact their coercive strategies.

David Brooks needs to re-think his participation in this propaganda push against academics. The mob being mobilized may not be too discriminatory in its dislike of the intelligentsia....

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