When Robert Taft and Adlai Stevenson faced off in the 1952 presidential race, I don’t remember any proposal to overhaul the humanities. Both candidates loved America but had differing political views. Universities were not yet on the front lines of the culture war—institutions had their own leanings, but these views were largely limited to the academy itself.
By the end of World War II, European academia had become thoroughly nihilistic, an unsurprising development given all it had endured in the decades prior. But Oxford still taught the literary canon as it always had, although history got a new spin.
Today is different. Contemporary thought resembles Nazi and Stalinist takeovers much more than it does a new philosophical view. Politics have overwhelmed the humanities. Street names are changed and historical revisionism continues to win the day—see The New York Times’ “The 1619 Project,” which aims to reframe all of American history as being centered on and made possible by the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Their words, not mine.
The academy has folded under a new ideological pressure, and the cause of which was blatant. It was a coup.
We must be very suspicious of this sort of academic revisionism. It begins not with a new view of the past, but with a revolutionary doctrine, a message in which the past becomes the enemy. It is ultimately a denial of truth, of history, of philosophy, and of great works of the imagination.
Strange as it may seem, this leads to a dumbing down of scholarship. Perhaps it is because we think we already know the answers, so there’s no need to ask any more questions. “Othello is about race! Period!”
That is what is so disturbing. The substance of academia disappears, and with it hundreds of authors vanish. All complexity is lost—doctrine blocks it out. What is left is uninteresting. Change the subject.
And with this, of course, we get a new language with new words and new meanings. One needn’t look any further than the self-contradicting name of the “Black Lives Matter” organization. Get beyond the hashtags, and you’ll see that the movement does not actually value black life much at all—apathy toward rampant black deaths in Chicago and most other large northern cities is a prime example.
As you know, an academic issue can become a political battle cry. Our new language hides what is happening. Rich suburbs are mugged and their fancy private schools become feeble echoes of what they once were—but they don’t even know it. The same rings true for our hollowed out colleges and universities, a reality that becomes more dire with each semester that passes.
Is this all election-year hysteria? I hope so, but that is all I can do: hope.