‘Great Awokening’: A New Religious War
Prof. Darel Paul has a powerful essay on “The Great Awokening” on college campuses. Excerpts:
The preachers of the Great Awokening claim to desire racial equality. Is this true? Or are they more interested in casting sinners into the hands of an angry mob? While it is difficult to discern another person’s ends, it is far easier to know her means. These involve a wholesale transformation of language, the academic curriculum, standards of judgment, disciplinary content and boundaries, academic freedom, even the definition of knowledge itself. This is no passing storm or simple outburst of youthful exuberance. The Great Awokening is a truly revolutionary project. Like all revolutions, it promises considerable destruction on the way to its final destination.
Paul, who teaches at Williams College, has written a carefully documented analysis, one filled with hyperlinks. He describes the ideological offense to silence and otherwise suppress any speech that challenges or contradicts positions held by radicals, especially race radicals, by construing the very act of voicing dissent as “violence.” More:
Charges of violence are the most serious that can be leveled against an institution and a community. Therefore they should be supported by the most clear and compelling evidence possible. It is precisely here that anti-racist campus activists fall woefully short. Former Evergreen State College biologist Heather Heying observes “we keep on hearing that we are an incredibly racist institution and we have yet to hear any credible evidence for racism here on campus.” This gulf between personal experience and publicly available evidence is at the heart of the disagreements over racism on campus today.
Part of the communication problem is rooted in anti-racist discourse. Activists often speak in emotionally charged generalizations: “we want to dismantle anti-blackness campus-wide” (Evergreen); “injustices [are] imposed on people of color by this institution on a daily basis” (Sarah Lawrence); “We, however, simply ask that our existences not be invalidated on campus” (Yale); “We charge this man with the destruction of black existence on this campus” (Williams). When asked what evidence supports these judgments, an increasingly popular response is to rule such questions out of bounds on the grounds of racism: “To ask marginalized students to throw away their enjoyment of a holiday, in order to expend emotional, mental, and physical energy to explain why something is offensive, is — offensive” (Yale); “We hold the truth of discursive and institutional violence to be self-evident.” (Williams); “accept the grievances of faculty of color without question” (Williams). According to former Evergreen State College biology professor Bret Weinstein, he was told by one of the most radical faculty of color at the college “to ask for evidence of racism is racism with a capital R.” Why? “We must stop asking them because we are inflicting harm on them asking for evidence.” Philosopher Nora Berenstain has invented a name for such evidentiary requests: “epistemic exploitation.” From such a perspective, blind faith is the only acceptable response.
Paul explains that the “violence” the wokesters decry is not merely limited to spoken communication. Racist violence is believed to be at the foundation of pedagogy by influential activist scholars:
In the view of Sensoy and DiAngelo, none of these practices seek out academic quality on fair and objective, if debatable, grounds. They are instead the socially constructed racist values of white culture and, for that reason, must at minimum be unsettled and at maximum abolished. Sensoy and DiAngelo want “traditional fields” with their “old classifications” to be swept up into “forward thinking” through “an interrogation of … disciplinary fields and their borders.” As they “decolonize predominantly white university campuses”―aka “white/settler–colonial institutions”―and pursue the “decolonization of the academy,” Sensoy and DiAngelo call for a transvaluation of all academic values. Their aim is to eradicate the traditional mission of academia and the nature of the academic life. Their goal is to turn the decolonized university into a radical fundamentalist sect.
In ages past, administrators and academics believed the mission of higher education to be the pursuit of knowledge (University of Chicago: “Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched”; University of Cambridge: “Hinc lucem et pocula sacra”) or even truth (Harvard University: “Veritas”; Yale University: “Lux et Veritas”). Today, they pursue Social Justice. Under that banner, anti-racist activists hope to do to higher education what Soviet communism did to fine art, literature and music. Under officially approved socialist realism, art was judged first and foremost by how well it depicted Soviet ideals, parroted Communist Party doctrine, and cultivated loyalty to the Soviet system. Not even science was exempted from serving a primarily ideological purpose during the thirty-year reign of Lysenkoism over Soviet biology and agronomy. Substitute critical race theory for Marxism–Leninism, whiteness for capitalism, and racial justice for dictatorship of the proletariat, and you will understand much of what the Great Awokening truly offers.
Read it all. It’s important. Prof. Darel Paul is a brave man to speak out, embedded as he is on the faculty of a college that is extremely hostile to his point of view. Consider, in light of Paul’s essay, just what it means for the self-described “activist-scholar” Billie Murray to argue, as she plans to do next week in a Villanova lecture, that “we should challenge the violence/nonviolence binary that limits our understanding of activist practices” and “should reimagine activism as combative.” Having defined voicing dissent from left-wing identity politics radicalism as “violence,” and the simple fact of defending traditional concepts of the university as “violence,” is it really so difficult to imagine these radicals justifying actual, chair-throwing, professor-punching violence as justified?
Now, lest you think that this is only about ideological leftist provocateurs, I urge you to read this City Journal essay by Jacob Howland, a philosophy professor at University of Tulsa, who explains in punishing detail how the social justice agenda, weaponized by managerial Woke Capitalism, is tearing the University of Tulsa apart. He writes that
a new administration has turned a once-vibrant academic institution with a $1.1 billion endowment and a national reputation in core liberal arts subjects into a glorified trade school with a social-justice agenda. Our story is worth telling, because we have been hit by a perfect storm of trends currently tearing through the American academy: the confident ignorance of administrators, the infantilization of students, the policing of faculty, the replacement of thinking with ideological jargon, and the corporatization of education.
It really is Moralistic Therapeutic Managerialism in action. The new president revolutionizing the university is Gerard Clancy, a professional psychiatrist:
Integral to the TU Commitment is fostering a “culture of justice” on campus. “We seek out complex problems and injustices in our society,” the strategic plan declares, “and engage in work that promotes justice.” The document also lays out a Diversity Action Plan for building “an inclusive, safe, and diverse community,” which it describes as “the primary foundation on which all [the university’s] objectives will be realized.” Clancy’s approach is aggressive or paternalistic, depending on the group addressed. Faculty resistance to the moral and therapeutic imperatives of the new institutional super ego is presumed to be so extensive as to require something only a few steps short of A Clockwork Orange-style reeducation. On top of an anonymous, online-bias reporting system, Clancy has mandated training in “unconscious bias” for all employees. (We’ve already done harassment and “microaggressions.”) And just to be sure, TU’s new Institute of Trauma, Adversity, and Injustice also regularly surveys “exclusionary, intimidating, offensive, and/or hostile conduct” at the university.
With students, however, Clancy prefers a posture of smothering paternalism. “Some of you have noticed dogs, horses, and other mammals in class,” begins a recent email from an associate dean; new university policy requires that we accommodate these “emotional support” animals in our classrooms. After Donald Trump’s election, Clancy emailed the TU community warning that “Many Americans are concerned, if not outright afraid, that the color of their skin, the religion they practice, the people they love or the politics they espouse . . . could make them targets of violence.” The Brett Kavanaugh hearings prompted an email in which Clancy assured students of “their safety and acceptance at The University of Tulsa,” accompanied by a video in which his wife Paula explained that “even our Clancy family is very diverse; we were born in the U.S. or Korea or Ireland or Canada, and we feel that this diversity makes us so strong and compassionate. And we really think it’s a lot, lot of fun to have all that diversity; we see it in such, such positive terms.”
Read it all. It’s insane. Clancy and his moralistic-therapeutic managerialists are sacking the place.
Colleges and universities that tolerate and encourage this kind of radicalism within their faculties and student bodies are destroying themselves. It is time for those, both liberal and conservative, to hasten the suicide of institutions that are incapable of rescue. Trustees, alumni, donors, and other stakeholders in a position to pressure these Social Justice Warrior factories and the pseudo-religious fanatics that run them ought to come down on them like an avalanche.
Companies considering hiring students formed by these colleges must know that they will be taking a tremendous risk in employing these angry, hyper-fragile neurotics who will be nothing but trouble in the workplace, patrolling their offices looking for microaggressions and accusing fellow employees of creating a “hostile work space” on the flimsiest grounds. If you have ever experienced the damage toxic people like this can do to an office environment, or talked to people who have had to deal with it, you know this is no minor thing.
What Darel Paul and Jacob Howland are talking about here has long-term implications. With these left-wing barbarians destroying the institutions that are the natural caretakers of knowledge and scholarship, which institutions, if any, will step up and serve as the equivalent of Benedictine monasteries in this new Dark Age? I was in Austin yesterday talking with some young conservatives about what it means, and should mean, to be active conservatives today. I suggested that it has to mean focusing far more attention on conservative cultural traditions than it does to conservatives today. The state is by no means the only threat, or even the greatest threat, to the endurance of the things we say we value. What, exactly, do we want to conserve? What do we think that liberty is for?
We are living through a time in which higher education is Sovietizing itself not because commissars in Washington are ordering it to, but because revolutionaries within its own ranks are demanding it. Every day brings new evidence that many of our institutions are incapable of defending themselves. In the case of the University of Tulsa, the institution has been entrusted to a leadership cadre that is actively ruining it. As Howland reports, this is not being done by the contemporary equivalent of Angela Davis and Abbie Hoffman; this is being executed by some of the pillars of the Tulsa community. Yes, we should fight to preserve those that still might be preserved — but some of them are already lost, and many more may yet succumb once the older generation of classical liberals retires out, leaving administrations and faculties to the fire-breathing Jacobins and the mentho-lyptus moralism of bourgeois-barbarians like Gerard Clancy.
We need a Benedict Option not just for the churches, but for the institutions of civilization. We have to form new institutions, and greatly strengthen those that now exist, and are keeping the revolutionaries at bay. If you are a lawmaker in a state where taxpayer-supported colleges like Evergreen State are destroying the possibility of an education, and bullying professors and students, then defund these ideology factories. If you are conservative donor to a college or university that is succumbing to this virus, then redirect your donations to a college that stands firmly and unapologetically within the liberal arts tradition. Make it possible for these countercultural colleges to hire faculty made refugees from the institutions like University of Tulsa, devoured by the revolution. Make it possible for them to offer scholarships to students who want a real education.
Also, I urge you to consider seeding efforts to found new institutions within which the traditional scholarly life can endure this new Dark Age. I know that entrepreneurial new schools like the St. Constantine School in Houston, founded by John Mark Reynolds, who earlier in life founded the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University, are trying very, very hard to keep the fire lit in the darkness. They need help. And not only at the university level: classical Christian schools are laboring mightily to revive and defend the tradition. When I tell people about what the classical Christian school my kids attend, Sequitur Classical Academy, is able to do despite the fact that it operates on a shoestring budget, they can hardly believe it. Just think what Sequitur could accomplish if it had donors? Our little school has 150 or so kids — ordinary kids, not a gifted-and-talented superschool population — who are being taught the Western humanities tradition, from the Greeks and the Romans down through the ages. And they are being taught to write! I was at a Sequitur fundraising gala last weekend, and was surprised to see my own college-student son interviewed in a video for the school. He said in the clip that he’s in his second semester at the LSU Honors College, and still hasn’t had to write a paper nearly as long as the ones he wrote at Sequitur.
(Not a Christian? Then start a secular model classical school. Why not? The classical heritage of humanist education is a gift to all of us, no matter our religion, our race, or any other demographic characteristic. It is our common patrimony because we are human.)
I’m telling you, there are men and women of goodwill out there who aren’t satisfied to curse the darkness, but who are engaged in building and sustaining little monasteries of cultural memory. They need help. Let the dead in mainstream higher education bury the dead. If the kind of thing Darel Paul and Jacob Rowland describe appalls you — and by the way, don’t for a second believe that Christian colleges and universities are free of the virus — then do whatever you can to fight it, and to defend the traditional humanities from ideological barbarians who are trying to destroy them in the name of identity politics. But consider, and consider strongly, that many institutions in the higher education imperium are not worth shoring up, and that the times are such that you are being called to donate your treasure and your efforts to building new forms of scholarly community.
Paul titled his essay “The Great Awokening” not just because it’s clever, but because he wants to highlight the essentially religious core of this movement. Reason has no part in this. It is essential to get that learned if you are going to understand what’s happening. The wars of religion that convulsed Reformation-era Europe resulted in massive destruction of European civilization’s artistic heritage. As Kenneth Clark said in his Civilization series:
[Martin Luther] hated the peasants’ revolt and asked his princely patrons to put it down fiercely. He didn’t like the destruction of images — what we now call works of art. But most of his followers were men who owed nothing to the past, to whom it meant no more than an intolerable servitude. It was an artistic disaster.
Clark quotes Erasmus, writing about a mob of the era: “I have seen them return from hearing a sermon as if inspired by an evil spirit. The faces of all showed a curious wrath and ferocity.” Well, we are living through a similar period of iconoclasm now, though the unthinking rage for destruction is directed not toward images, but toward the fundaments of civilization itself.