My interest was piqued recently when I encountered at Townhall.com the title of Kurt Schlichter’s article: “Let’s Help Academia Destroy Itself.” The author, a self-described conservative, levels a visceral assault against the university.
Schlichter offers an essentially two prong attack against academia. The first we can call “the tick argument.” Academia, he says, is like “a liberal tick” in that it divests society of its “blood” while producing nothing in return. The second argument centers on the politicization of higher education. Schlichter calls academia “the College-Progressive Complex,” for it is “a reservoir of leftism” that American taxpayers are forced to subsidize while it insures a bottomless supply of liberal, and largely underemployed, Democratic voters.
While Schlichter oversimplifies some things, as an academic who also happens to be a conservative, I know as well as anyone that, sadly, there is also much truth in what he says. In fact, in some respects, he actually understates the extent to which leftist ideology saturates the contemporary academy.
Not only is “the disinterested pursuit of truth” an ideal that leftist academics have long abandoned. This is an ideal that they regularly mock. Moreover, it is more frequently than not treated as a Eurocentric social construction by which white men have traditionally bludgeoned into submission women, non-whites, homosexuals, non-Christians, and the environment.
To those outside of the academy, this may sound like hyperbole. I assure you, it is not. One of my professors from graduate school actually referred to the Western philosophical tradition as “thuggish” for its assumption that truth was real and discoverable. Think about this: with one proverbial stroke of the pen, he dismisses most of the West’s brightest lights, from the ancient Greeks through the Christian medievalists to the moderns, as a bunch of bullying thugs.
Yet this is not an anomaly. World famous philosophers, like Jacques Derrida, make it their task in life to “deconstruct” Western civilization so as to convict it of “logo centrism”—its faith in reason to access reality.
However, even when the academic is not a self-sworn post-modernist, the contempt for his or her civilization is expressed in other ways. Indeed, what one can’t fail to discover upon spending any bit of time in today’s university is that contempt for Western civilization has assumed the standing of a creed.
All that has been said and thought in the West is routinely brought before the tribunal of what one commentator once aptly called “the holy trinity” of race, sex, and class. Actually, it is even worse than this, for it isn’t just racism, sexism, and classism for which academia condemns the West. The latter is also guilty of “speciesim,” bias against non-humans; “ableism,” bias against the handicapped or “differently-abled;” and “ageism,” bias against those of a specific age group.
Many commentators on the right regularly charge leftists generally, and leftist academics in particular, with endorsing “moral relativism.” It should be clear by now that this charge is misplaced.
Of course it is correct that there is no short supply of leftist academics who disavow “absolutism.” And there are many who claim to be relativists.
But I have never met or even heard of an academic who really is a relativist. The leftists who dominate the academy, whether they style themselves “relativists” or not, are like jihadists or crusaders when it comes to their creed. As far as they are concerned, either others convert to their cause or risk a kind of social—and/or professional—death: ostracism and demonization. Leftist academics are absolutists in the worst sense of this word.
Before deciding as to whether they want to pledge to a university their precious time and treasure, aspiring college students and/or their guardians need to know what life in academia is really like.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.