First, kill all the professors. Second, reap the rewards of knowledge.

Did you know that PC insanity may mean the end of American universities? I sure didn’t, and I’m living in the middle of one. There is no “PC insanity” going on, for one thing — political correctness is merely a right-wing bugaboo, an invisible specter to rail against whenever some idea escapes the shackles of conservative fear and ignorance. Most of what goes on in universities is this weird thing called learning, and what riles conservatives is that learning doesn’t look anything like the indoctrination they’re used to.

So what has inspired that ridiculous headline? A philosophy professor speaking at a European nationalist conference declared that he dislikes those fractious liberal arts, and therefore we can expect the demise of American education at any moment now. Woo-hoo.

People used to talk about the ends of the university and how the academic establishment was failing its students. Today, more and more people are talking about the end of the university, the idea being that it is time to think about closing them rather than reforming them.

“More and more people are talking”…who are these people? Are there specific policy proposals? This sort of vague hand-waving about those people over there, not cited, just “talking” about an idea that no one seems ready to stand behind is bad journalism. Give me sources. Give me plans. There are always assholes babbling about something they don’t like.

This article does narrow it down to one person at least.

Last month at a conference in London, the distinguished British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton added his voice to this chorus when responding to a questioner who complained of the physical ­violence meted out to conservative students at Birkbeck University.

We’ll get to him in a moment, but first…what violence against conservatives at Birkbeck? This is the first I’d heard of it, so I went searching for news about something going down at Birkbeck. There doesn’t seem to be much of anything. Perhaps some of our UK readers can let me know if there is some specific incident being addressed. The closest thing I could find was an article from a year ago in Vice that interviewed some students to find out What It’s Like to Be a Tory at a Left-Wing University, in this case Birkbeck. There’s the usual moaning about how girls don’t want to date them when they find out their political leanings, and then this complaint:

As President of the Conservative Association, after I requested a debate with the Labour Society president, in the style of the mayoral hustings, I received threats of violence from student union officers, including in writing, a threat to “destroy” the office I work at and verbal threats to kill me. The officer who made this threat resigned after I threatened legal action against the student union. I was marched off campus by university staff for “threatening the safe space” after I set up the pre-approved Conservative stand, with a Union Jack backdrop. Labour students, who clearly display no appreciation of free speech promoted by J.S. Mill, tore up posters and burst the Conservative Party branded balloons.

OK, death threats and threats of destruction are bad, don’t do them. At least the culprit in this case was compelled to drop out, which seems a more than adequate punishment. I’m so sorry about your balloons, Mr Tory.

But this is the worst incident I could find. Maybe the person at this event with Scruton had personal knowledge of some more terrible event that didn’t make the international news, but this is still so much nebulous anecdote, and it’s still just background noise on the level of “humans, in every kind of social group, sometimes suck”. They don’t warrant the kind of nonsense Scruton proposes.

There were two possible responses to this situation, Sir Roger said. One was to start competing institutions, outside the academic establishment, that welcomed conservative voices.

You mean like Liberty University? Sure, as long as you don’t mind seeing political figures turned into minor deities, and you think it perfectly reasonable to teach creationism in biology classes. The thing is, there is no political litmus test for getting into a secular university. We don’t screen our students for enforced liberalism, we don’t dismiss students for voting Republican. It’s one of those things that is orthogonal to the academic mission.

It is true that university faculties tend to lean left of center, but there’s a reason for that: entering the professoriate is not a path to fortune and glory, and the only reason to be here is because one loves teaching, or loves research, or both. There’s no ulterior motive. There is definitely no political motive. There’s a kind of professional idealism at work here that means we have to love learning and teaching, which isn’t exactly high on the list of conservative values. We’d never say, “get rid of universities altogether,” unlike certain other people.

The other possibility was “get rid of universities altogether.”

That response was met with enthusiastic applause.

Now that’s chilling. Who was the audience? It’s odd, but many of the rags reporting enthusiastically on Scruton’s remarks don’t bother to say what conference, but I finally found one mention that it was a conservative nationalist conference.

This conference also featured Anna Maria Anders, Phillip Blond, John Fonte, Nile Gardiner, Dan Hannan, Daniel Kawczynski, John O’Sullivan, Balazs Orban, Melvin Schut, Marion Smith, and more. Sponsors included the Bow Group, Common Sense Society, Danube Institute, Institute of World Politics, International Reagan Thatcher Society, Polish National Foundation.

It’s a bunch of European conservative think-tanks and individuals I don’t know anything about, except that I can tell from the name that I’d be wearing a necklace of garlic and carrying a crucifix if I had to do anything with the International Reagan Thatcher Society. It looks like an unpleasant bunch from my perspective, I hope they didn’t put up any balloons, because they might well have been popped.

Flippantly proposing eradicating all universities is rather unseemly for a Cambridge graduate. He doesn’t have an alternative proposed, either, nor does he have a good reason. He does make the usual qualification, though.

Sir Roger went on to qualify his recommendation, noting that a modern society required institutions to pursue science and engineering. But the humanities, which at most colleges and universities have devolved into cesspools of identity politics and grievance studies, should be starved of funding and ultimately shut down.

My science is not your shield, you demented coward. I really get tired of these clowns saying the sciences are OK, because they want their medicines and their airplanes and their cell phones, but all those unproductive disciplines that teach mere art and literature and philosophy are garbage that can be thrown out. A scientist or an engineer with no knowledge of themself or their culture is an unimaginative drone — a mere technician shaped to serve their master. Don’t fall for this crap.

There are at least two ironies here. Scruton is a philosopher, that is, a discipline of the dreaded humanities. Did he get his learning in a cesspool? He’d probably argue that in the Olden Times it was better, but it really wasn’t. Universities have always been despised for their abrasive effects on societies, it’t just that most of us aren’t wearing rose-colored glasses when we look behind us.

Then there’s the hypocrisy of complaining about identity politics at a goddamned nationalist conference. You’re soaking in identity politics, Scruton, and you seem to be enjoying it.

Whenever I see people yapping about eliminating all the universities, except in those few disciplines that meet their approval, I think of the Great Leap Forward, and the Killing Fields, and Siberian work camps, all places and times where academics met an unpleasant end. Perhaps Scruton and his cronies are actually closet Old School Communists? Their ideas about social engineering seem just as crude and blunt.


  1. blf says

    Scruton’s credibility is basically non-existent. It’s so bad now he managed to get himself fired from the current authoritarian NKofE government about a month ago for being too obviously racist, Government sacks Roger Scruton after remarks about Soros and Islamophobia:

    The government has sacked its housing adviser Roger Scruton after he appeared to repeat antisemitic statements and denied Islamophobia was a problem.


    In an interview with the New Statesman, the rightwing philosopher was unrepentant about his views on George Soros, the Hungarian-American philanthropist, who is frequently cited in antisemitic conspiracy theories and attacked by Hungary’s rightwing prime minister, Viktor Orbán.

    Anybody who doesn’t think that there’s a Soros empire in Hungary has not observed the facts, Scruton told the magazine.

    Scruton, who has been a friend of Orbán for more than 30 years, denied that he was antisemitic or Islamophobic. He said Islamophobia had been invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop discussion of a major issue.


    And so on. I suppose the fascist should be glad he’s only in the N.Korea of Europe (formerly known as the UK), since unlike the N.Korea in Asia, they don’t yet shoot people who fall out of favour with the paranoid clique (as far as is known…).

  2. davidc1 says

    Is this the Daniel Kawczynski who is the mp for Shrewsbury ? A nasty long streak of piss .
    It is a wonder he hasen’t tossed his hat in to ring for leader of the tory party .

  3. nomdeplume says

    It is like the right wing attack on public service broadcasters (BBC, Australian ABC) for “left wing bias”. What they mean by this is any presentation of facts. The Right doesn’t like facts because their world view is pure ideology.

  4. zoniedude says

    You might want to point out that balloons typically become environmental pollution as they become ingested by birds and other animals. In addition, they are typically fouling waters and become plastic pollution. So popping balloons should be a political imperative as long as they are they put in the trash.

  5. sockjockwarlock says

    “My science is not your shield” should be a T-shirt. That “Facts don’t care about feelings” would use ‘reason’, ‘logic’ & ‘science’ to justify their bigotry is something that needs to be addressed.
    Even frustrating is seeing this confluence between movement atheism and far right happening. Movement atheism feigning ignorance about the far right while supporting them out ‘free speech’ just doubles down this confluence.

  6. monad says

    I feel like universities, though a valuable institution that has lasted for centuries, are in danger of dying soon anyway. The ideology that everything exists for short-term profit has been working on consuming them, devaluing all the things that make them work and turning them into credential factories for the well-off and debt factories for everyone else.

  7. alixmo says

    Like all ultra-conservatives all around the world, they enjoy technological progress and the wealth it brings. Therefore, they “allow” the teaching of some sciences that they deem “useful” and financially valuable. And, of course,they like all technical vocations, especially engineering. These jobs tend to be non-threatening to the political and societal status quo and even too most religion.

    The humanities are different. Learning e.g. about history helps to understand and to a certain degree anticipate social currents and their impact. Finding out more about humans and their behavior e.g. through (cultural) anthropology, sociology, comparative religious studies, political “sciences”, is crucial for us all. It is the humanities, social sciences, that enable people best to think critically and independently. That alone proves that they are not a waste of time and money (a stupid idea anyway, coming from a very narrow “economical” viewpoint – even learning a dead ancient language is enriching our society).

    Conservatives are obsessed with the idea that they already have all the answers concerning society. This includes a hierarchical system, with men ranking above women, rich above poor (and sometimes even still nations or skin colors ranking above others). Social sciences not only undermine the myth of religion, they also destroy the myth that the old hierarchies were a social good, that it “was better in the olden days”.

    Conservatives cling to the idea of traditional patriarchal family ranking above all (seen as a “Godgiven” fact), hence their disdain for feminism, LGBTQ+ rights etc.

    Humanities and social sciences challenge their ideology. Therefore they have to ruin their reputation in public opinion. And public opinion is crucial. Therefore, this issue has to be taken seriously.

  8. F.O. says

    In high school (uhm.. Liceo in Italy, 14 to 19 years old) I studied history of philosophy which was taught very poorly by massive wankers, and that was all my contact with the matter and I loathed it.

    Now, largely via Pharyngula and PhilosophyTube I’ve come to realize the massive holes in my education.
    Why don’t we learn about fucking ethics?
    How can we be responsible citizens and voters if we haven’t learned about that?
    Jesus fuck, this is a deliberate attempt at keeping the status quo unchallenged.

  9. Kagehi says

    Now, now PZ. Communist? That is a label, kind of like terrorist, religious fanatic, or tyrant that only applies to other people with extreme views and ideas about their own irrefutable piety, knowledge of truth, and certainty about how things “need to be run”. It obviously doesn’t apply to them (even if it looks and smells a bloody awful like the same thing).

    Oh, and F.O., they have redefined “every” word, so yeah, “Ethics” doesn’t mean the same thing to you and me as it does to them either. To them its all a sort of war between the right and the evil, and thus any tactic used to win is “ethical”, under their warped rules of engagement.

  10. Richard Smith says

    Most assuredly apropos of nothing, every time I read Scruton’s name, my brain would try to swap the vowels and change the ‘n’ from a dromedary to a Bactrian. All the same, he sounds like a sack of something.

  11. fckideologs says

    Oh, noes! Not the Noble Humanities! Whatever will we do without feminist glaciology and fat studies?!
    (\sarcasm, in case it was missed)