Reign of Ignorance
Why is the American academy so monolithically left-wing? David Gelernter, himself a tenured professor of computer science at Yale, attempts an answer in his new book America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered In the Obamacrats). For Gelernter, a postwar cultural revolution saw America’s elite colleges laid low by the double punch of the “Great Reform” and the rise of “Imperial Academia.” Institutions that had served the WASP elite found themselves transformed into pseudo-intellectual salons, the pipe-smoking pedants who (as Yeats wrote) “cough in ink” replaced with amazing speed by modish dilettantes. The old establishment, through a combination of naïveté and upper-class manners, stood aside and made way for the revolutionaries storming the gates. The change agents hacked away at the idea of college as an inculcator of knowledge and virtue and asserted instead the primacy of theory, “substituting for the intractable bloody mess called reality a seamless, silken tapestry of pure ideas.”
History departments were seized by the ideologues of post-colonialism and anti-Occidentalism, political-science courses by antagonists of the United States and Israel, and law schools by activist theorists for whom the Constitution was to be understood through its emanations rather than its plain meaning. The principled opposition to bigotry was diverted into radical victimologies: critical race theory, gender studies, and sexual identity politics. Empiricism was deposed in favor of the epistemic dead end of post-structuralism and its showy progeny, postmodernism. Critical thinking, which is to say thinking critical of America, was encouraged. Ideas that had been orthodoxy became heretical ciphers for racism, sexism, and homophobia and were dissuaded, forcefully. Hiring practices and speech codes formalized the boundaries of this new closed-shop of left-liberalism.
About the Author
Stephen Daisley is a writer living in the United Kingdom who blogs as the Eclectic Partisan. This is his first review for Commentary.