As we survey the intellectual scene today, what appears perhaps most disconcerting is the modern western University. With its mimosa administrations, Jacobin unions and an energetic left wing professoriate, it has become the new industrial farm for the production of ideological madness and intellectual obscurantism. “Those reverend Bedlams, colleges and schools,” in the words of the Earl of Rochester from his famous A Satire Against Mankind, are filled “with frantic crowds of thinking fools.” The academic defunding of critical reason is as pronounced today as it presumably was in Rochester’s day and probably far more so.
There is nothing sacrosanct per se about the University which, like any human institution, can profane its founding principles and grow corrupt and oppressive. The German universities of the 1930s, for example, despite their long tradition of rigorous scholarship, were by no means citadels of informed thought and genuine research but outright propaganda factories, preparing students’ minds for the absurd theories of National Socialism, the restriction of free expression and the absorption of false doctrines. The University may as easily become an engine of indoctrination as a generator of intellectual vitality or a transmitter of knowledge. Here we must remain skeptical of slogans and professed ideals, for the principle of “academic freedom” can be misused as a cover for illiberal thought and slavish conformity to a ruling ideology.
While avoiding the diabolical extreme of the German paradigm, this is more or less what is happening today in many of our erstwhile seats of learning. “The defenders of what now passes for academic freedom,” writes Manfred Gerstenfeld, “should largely be seen as an elitist interest group that tries to protect acquired privileges…enabl[ing] universities to present the current, ostensible academic freedom as a moral value, whereas actually it is an expression of extreme corporatism.” The pedagogical bias which it fosters “includes elements such as political correctness, the promotion of ideology, the distortion of knowledge, and the protection of the hate promoters and falsifiers of knowledge as well as other malfunctions of campus administrations”.
In his new book The War of Ideas: Jihad against Democracy, Walid Phares speaks of the pressing need to clean up “the diseducating process that [has] blurred the intellectual vision of a whole generation.” Dennis Prager concurs. Taking his cue from the Earl of Rochester, he writes in an online article: “Our universities are run by fools who are breeding a generation of fools.” The exceptions, he continues, “have little impact on the deconstruction of civilization and the breeding of anti-intellectuals taking place at our universities.” Edward Bernard Glick, author of Soldiers, scholars and society, trains his sights on the American university in particular. “American universities, “ he writes, “have been transformed into the most Marxist, postmodernist, know-nothing, anti-American, anti-military and anti-capitalist institution in our society. It is now a bastion of situational ethics and moral relativism…American academia is now a very intolerant place.” Former Muslim and founder of the ArabsForIsrael website Nonie Darwish would surely concur: sorting through the hatemail she receives, she finds that “the worst comes from University professors” (FrontPageMagazine.com, October 6, 2008). No longer disseminators of truth and centers of impartial scholarly research, American universities—and Canadian and European universities as well—have become strongholds of a left-wing cultural anthropology.
Contemporary academics and intellectuals (or anti-intellectuals), by and large, strike me as the Mr. Beans of the vaudeville clerisy, epitomes of conceptual ineptitude. But they seem no less retarded than their immediate precursors, re-processing the ineffable Bertrand Russell who in a 1937 speech declared that “Britain should disarm, and if Hitler marched his troops into this country when we were undefended, they should be welcomed like tourists and greeted in a friendly way.” According to an article in the International Herald Tribune for April 1987, entitled “50 Years Ago,” “If the British government stopped arming and turned pacifist, this country would not be invaded and would be as safe as Denmark…As a step toward world peace, [Russell] proposed dismemberment of the British Empire.”
In The Flight from Truth, where this material is discussed at length, Jean-François Revel comments on Russell’s incredible foray into the domain of public policy: “Bertrand Russell may have been an eminent philosopher in his speciality—symbolic logic—but he was nonetheless an imbecile on the subject dealt with in those sentences.” Revel deplores those intellectuals who “have employed their talents to justify falsehood…even foolishness.” Plus ça change! It is surely time to act through a public campaign to disseminate information and purse-string vigilance to address this monumental aberration.