Monday, September 26, 2005

Reclaiming the Liberal Tradition in Academia

James Pierson in the Weekly Standard discusses the transformation of the Liberal University to the Left University:

In many important ways, the left university reversed or modified the assumptions and practices of the liberal university. The architects of the liberal university were optimistic about the prospects for the nation, and looked ahead to the progressive advancement of democracy and liberty, but the leaders of the left university are dour and pessimistic and view our history as a tale of oppression. The liberal academics believed in progress through the application of reason and knowledge, but the academic left asserted that reason and knowledge were masks for corporate or conservative interests. Yet, while the old liberals carved out a role in politics for experts and expert knowledge, the left disdained expertise and embraced the doctrine of diversity, which is based on the naked assertion of group interests. The liberals believed in academic freedom for all, but the academic leftists support academic freedom only for themselves, not for conservative or moderate faculty, not for speakers who disagree with them, and not for students who wish to learn from a nonideological standpoint. The liberals of a century ago took over the university with an intellectual vision grounded in 19th-century philosophy, while the radicals of our time seized control through politics and political pressure by organizing demonstrations and protests and by shrewdly leveraging assistance from governmental regulatory bodies.

This is one of the best articles I have read that evaluates the factors in the last 60 years or so that have transformed the intellectual pursuits of academic centers in this country into centers of politically correctness and oppression of free thought.

As Pierson correctly notes, events have transpired in the world of reality that these so-called "intellectuals" have not been able to accept or even understand. In their minds, the collapse of the Soviet Union and communism was an unforseen disaster that they still ae unable to comprehend or accept. The failure of socialism and the welfare state and the continued erosion of life in those nations that embrace it; as well as the rise and resiliance of the U.S. and the market economy to world-wide dominance was not predicted by their ideologies (remember "we will bury you"?). That the policies of George W. Bush should unleash a storm of freedom and democracy across the world is the final insult to their intellectual aspirations, and has unleashed their rage as well as their intense anxiety and fear.

On some level they suspect that the jig is up, since all these major events in the last decade are really pretty clear signals that the Leftist takeover of the university will be coming to an end. The shrill and frequently irrational responses to the events in the world today only highlight the fact that they are uable to maintain their carefully crafted illusion of intellectual superiority. At the same time, their so-called dedication to free thought has been fully exposed as a mask under which they freely censor all thought that contradicts their perspective. This they call "political correctness" and "multiculturalism"; and it has become a horrible sickness at the core of the academy.

This is not to say that there is, or should be, a movement to create a "university of the Right" -- that is not the goal of expunging the Left's pervasive and destructive influence; nor would it be a good thing. The cure for the sickness brought into academia by the Left is simply a return to the ideals of pursuing truth and knowledge--which is not held captive by either the "Left" or "Right" -- and a committment to the only kind of diversity that matters--the diversity of ideas and thought.

Read the entire article, and see if you don't think that reclaiming the real liberal intellectual tradition of higher education should be a high priority in a free society. Without treasuring and preserving that tradition, the university becomes not a beacon of free inquiry, but only a safe haven for mediocrity.

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