The Ideological Fog Of The Modern University

Don’t miss Peter Wood’s remarkable speech on the crisis in the universities, delivered April 19 to the National Association of Scholars affiliate in Minnesota. The speech is featured above in commentary. Wood, NAS executive director, neatly encapsulates the crisis in a single sentence, discussing “how higher education one ordered by a small number of abiding principles has, within a few decades, fragmented into a million little multiculturalisms, vanished into the Cheshire Cat grin of postmodernism, erupted into truth-denying relativism; spread its ideological fog of race, gender and class reductionism, dynamited the very basis of rational inquiry through deconstruction and other anti-foundational pseudo-philosophies and transformed the university from a steward of civilization to its spendthrift.”

Citing the work of chaos theorist Edward Lorenz, who died a week ago, Wood speaks of attempts to face the chaos of the campuses in terms of either Phylum A – try to begin the reform of existing campuses by establishing beachheads on their alien soil – and Phylum B, acknowledge that reform of the ideologically committed universities is a hopeless cause: let them decline in their folly and build new institutions to replace them. Wood thinks Phylum B, though obviously emotionally satisfying, will not work. Among the beachheads of Phylum A: Robby George’s Madison Institute at Princeton, Patrick Deneen’s Toqueville Center at Georgetown, Robert Koons’s Center for Western Civilization at the University of Texas, Dan Lowenstein’s Center for Liberal Arts and Free Institutions at UCLA and John Tomasi’s Political Theory Project at Brown.

Wood favors Phylum A and includes in its description parallel organizations set up to counter existing ones, including the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), the Association of Literary Scholars and the Historical Society. The Federalist Society doesn’t quite fit in this category, but it is a counter to the American Bar Association. Wood discusses many Phylum A projects and warns that reforming higher education will bring some chaos of its own.

John Leo

John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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