Destroying An Institution From Within
A college professor in the humanities, responding to the Authority post from earlier today (which I thought I’d first posted days ago, but maybe not), writes:
For a couple weeks now I’ve been singing the praises of The Crown to anyone who would listen, praising it as a great exemplar of moral conservatism and of the importance of institutions and tradition. What the show makes so wonderfully clear is how difficult it is to put the self second, behind and below the concerns of tradition and institutions. This used to be done commonly, not just in faith and government but in business and in family. Now the opposite is the common currency of our culture: the imperial self reigns supreme in film, literature, advertising, and so on. The Crown is the exception that proves the rule. Its conservatism is so prominent because it is so unusual.
The only institution I can speak on with any familiarity is academia, and I can tell you from the viewpoint of the humanities it is no longer an institution at all. You could probably name on one hand the colleges that see themselves as stewards of tradition (St. John’s, Hillsdale, Christendom, Claremont, et al.). All others have succumbed to the “disrupt” ethos that migrated from the business world — an ethos that, perhaps ironically, migrated from perverse iterations of neoclassical economics at places like the University of Chicago. Compounding this microeconomic view of all things, in which the self is wholly inviolable and is the measure of all action, is the obsession in the humanities with emancipation. You might recall I emailed you last year about the power of Michel Foucault’s thought . It has only gotten worse in the wake of Trump. Consider yesterday’s Times piece by George Yancy, a philosophy professor at Emory. He responds to the Professor Watchlist imbroglio and, essentially, doubles down on his “responsibility” to unshackle his students from the oppressive bonds of tradition. Sample:
So, in my classrooms, I refuse to remain silent in the face of racism, its subtle and systemic structure. I refuse to remain silent in the face of patriarchal and sexist hegemony and the denigration of women’s bodies, or about the ways in which women have internalized male assumptions of how they should look and what they should feel and desire… I refuse to remain silent when it comes to transgender women and men who are beaten to death by those who refuse to create conditions of hospitality.
Etc., etc., ad infinitum. What a banal recitation this has become. And it’s very easy for people outside academia to roll their eyes at this, but I am telling you: this is really how humanities professors see themselves.
I go to faculty meetings with these people and listen to English and History professors congratulate themselves for the “unlearning” they do, and cheer each other for “freeing” their students from Judeo-Christian tradition. This is the whole point of the Critical Theory movement: professors are to always and everywhere fight discourses of power, and the best place to do that is the classroom, where they still hold some semblance of authority. It’s especially bad at conferences and in journals, where total groupthink has taken hold. I do a lot of scholarly writing on conservative thinkers, and I’ve had journal editors tell me flat-out that they will not publish anything that does not explicitly challenge conservative thinking because the backlash from other professors is so brutal: such journals would be seen as being complicit in oppression. I mean that totally seriously.
Consider the terms of choice among humanities professors in how they describe their work: trouble, interrogate, destabilize, critically examine, problematize, and on and on. These are not the terms of people who see themselves as part of an institutional tradition. I cannot stress this enough: they see their core mission as disrupting that very institution.
So what we are left with is essentially an insurrection. And it will come crashing down, of course: as we saw in the French Revolution, you can’t preach the subversion of all authority from an authoritative position and expect to remain in that position forever.
I was literally sitting here at my kitchen table going over the page proofs for the Education chapter in The Benedict Option when I stopped to check e-mail and saw this sobering e-mail from the professor. There’s a passage in the Education chapter in which I talk about how contemporary education severs students from our tradition, our history, and the roots of our civilization. Leading up to this excerpt, I talked about how shocking it was later in life to realize how little my education, especially my college education, taught me about Western religion, philosophy, history, art, literature, music, and culture. I can’t blame the tenured radicals the professor speaks of in his e-mail. It was
We are going to have a counterrevolution in this country’s educational institutions. The classical school movement has arisen in part to address the needs created by our mainstream educational institutions failing to transmit knowledge of the Western tradition. It is my hope and my prayer that we will see more colleges arise that reject the nihilistic garbage the professor sees, and explicitly set themselves up as passionate alternatives. People have to wake up and understand what is happening, and is failing to happen, as standard high schools, colleges, and universities — even at some that think of themselves as Christian. We have to do much better by our kids.