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.