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January 18, 2005


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George W.

Ok, ok. I’m following your first paragraph. Yes it is a struggle, and it does matter for them to undertake it to harness their base. It’s the good fight, and win or lose, it coalesces their cohorts together. However, if hegemony is at stake, and according to Gramsci it can be liberal as well, why have similar struggles by the Left against nuclear disarmament, international war and hazardous waste have not had similar inspirational/unifying results? In fact, the Left is often afraid of supporting risky actions because failure often seems to increase apathy and apolitical feelings of “we tried this before, it wont work” in potential activists. People do fight the good fight, but get depressed and cynical if unsuccessful, so activists often focus on “lighter” things like animal cruelty, video game violence and pornography.

“The good fight, being on God's side. The Democrats have no clue about such a strategy and the left has been too reasonable or fragmented or passive to undertake the passionate struggle likely doomed to defeat.”

So if your logic is to hold, than why do conservatives fight for God and don’t get dispirited even if they lose, while liberals don’t seem to get the same benefits. (What happened to the coalition that thought against the Vietnam War? Most of it disbanded as soon as we pulled out.) And why do you say that there were no passionate liberal attempts at impossible goals (Equal Rights Amendment, Disarmament, a Labor/Socialist Party electoral, The Weathermen, etc), but they seemingly they did not have the results that you see in the right. So what strategy does the Left have to learn? To get their own “god”, so that any struggle will seem more meaningful and fulfilling (with struggle itself being part of the reward, win or lose, not just the political outcome)? I’d say there is a bigger difference between the liberals and evangelicals at play here than strategy.

George W.

Now on your second paragraph, and this post is admittedly a bit spacey. I understand the possible outcome of losing the fight for our universities. Homophobia, Sexism, scientific ignorance, etc; yes, I know. Still, my response is (and may the Zizek be with me), LET THEM HAVE THE ACADEMY! Do we really even want it ourselves? Has it been good to us liberals? Has it worked for us as an asset? In Rumsfeld speak, is this the Academy that we have or the academy that we actually wanted? I say this as an outsider (and one who is busy knocking at the gates), but please consider this seriously.

The Right want to take over the “Academy”, that’s understandable, but why are we defending it? This is something that is actually not that impossible, as although the conservative battle cry decries “liberal academic dominance” the truth is that most universities were never on the Left to begin with. Colleges may have more liberals than an average church, and those tend to be outspoken, but it does not make the Academy “liberal”. In fact the administrations, the trustees, and most of the older tenured professors (for the “serious” disciplines) in the biggest universities are pretty damn conservative. There may be some radicals in assorted English and Dance departments, and a few tucked away in small colleges, but most research institutions are, although not religiously fundamentalist, opposed to most change, and have harassed liberal students and professors (even in Berkley/Columbia type places).

What are we losing here? Adjunct slavery that kills your passion, publish or perish that takes you away from the students, intense specialization (and the resulting political blindness), verbose discipline jargons, petty rivalries and skirmishes for tenure and grants? Why shouldn’t the Right have it? Let’s see what happens to their ideologues when they are required to read through all the previous publications on the topic, be objective and detached, talk in a non-popularizing language, and cite other people when they want to say anything new. I mean, what do I know, I’m an undergrad here… But I see liberals complaining about what Academia has done to them: how it has created mass apathy, made the expression of creative original thought very hard, in fact made all public expression of thought be contingent on a degree; and now we are going to defend it? (for example see Posner’s “Public Intellectuals: a Study of a Decline”, “The Last Intellectuals” by Jacoby, “This Book is Not Required” by Bell)(see!!! I cant even rant without citing someone)(and yes although those are published, these are rare in a mountain verbiage on everything else)

So now progressives have an option of fighting a (probably useless) rearguard action to defend something that is not theirs (and have not been good to them) to begin with, or to reconsider their positions and maybe invest their energies into building a base that is actually theirs, and will work much better and disseminating their values and goals then the academy has ever been. What if the “Academy” has been one of the most damaging things to the Left, period. By stifling radical thought, by befuddling expression, by relativizing ideas – we may be more PC and less homophobic, but are better off? So if the Right takes it away, is that as bad as it seems? Perhaps it will be the best thing that could happen to radicals in the US. They wont abandon it themselves, so the Right will take it from them. And maybe that will be the needed push to find (build) another headquarters, one that is not so inundated with money, business pressures, and government funds. (Yes I am sacrificing your job here, but it’s for the greater good.)

I am not suggesting that we abandon learning all together…as the “academy” is not the end-all of learning, in fact often it’s the opposite. Try this. Close your eyes for a second. Relax your back muscles. Breathe out your nose. Now imagine a place where people come to learn. Maybe there won’t be professors and students. Maybe it will be just have those who want to learn come to learn from those who are teaching, and those who are teaching learn from teaching and others. There are no grades to designate you as a failure or a success that will hunt you through life, or to inspire rivalry between the students. In fact the markers of learning are your own, as is the compulsion to learn more, and you wont be made to feel that you are required to suffer through this stage to be able to do anything in life. Maybe you won’t be required to choose a discipline and stick with it, maybe radical thought will be encouraged, maybe the focus will be about what your own life had to do with it and not what somebody thinks. Maybe there will be less fears about money and costs, less need to sell yourself for scholarships, less rivalry between the teachers, less fear of students of the latter. This is all a big idealistic utopian “maybe”. Or maybe I just idealize Hampshire College. But I still can’t stop wondering why we are going to have a fight for the Academy, without ever having a real fight to make the academy ours. (yes, there were struggles for tenure, and freedoms of expression, but I don’t see them going beyond quick appeasement, which are being eroded as we speak with temp labor, hiring pressures, and business and government grant dependence)

George W.

Finally. Why are we defending American Science industry so much? It has been a great helper to our wars, our capitalist expansion, our imperialism. America is the big world hegemon in part, if not because of, its scientific lead in both the military and industry. If this was curbed by replacing our scientists with those that believe in God and spurn evolution, perhaps this lead will be revoked, in favor of the more socialist Europe or Latin America. Are we fighting against American hegemony here? Well perhaps a bit of evangelical rule will accomplish a devastation that Seattle could not. And as our economic might will decrease, so will our military might, and visa versa. (although we will be loonier and more aggressive)

I know, it sounds a bit Marxist: the bourgeois will create the conditions for their own downfall. Ok, it’s very Marxist. But what else are the neo-cons doing? If Bush and Cato want America to be the world Empire why are they so busy axing its roots? We our cutting our education, health care, prenatal care, increasing cancer, drug dependence, violence, stupidity, poverty. These deprivations may perhaps make a citizen that is easier to manipulate (the metaphor would be of Nero burning Rome to quell the dissent over the costly Northern campaign), but by undercutting the NSF, or shifting all the money to the rich, and increasing the debt, Bush is seemingly working towards Americas downfall.

Am I wrong here?


Sadly, my obligation to polish off another 30 pages or so of Locke precludes any extensive/in-depth analysis here, I'm going to take your advice and knock you for idealism here, George.

When you champion the hippie-commune Hampshire college archetype for the "new" academy, you fail to realize that this type of institution is already falling on hard times in a society that predicates the necessity for education on economic imperatives. I myself WANTED to go to Hampshire college but was unable to attend--why? As I explained to you, they failed to give me any kind of financial aid because the student who goes to a free-wheeling progressive institution like that has a greater tendency to go live on a mountain in Japan smoking weed and writing a radical leftist webzine than to become a succesful businessman and contribute funding to their alma mater. The place has no endowment.

Universities are businesses, and I agree, this is part of the problem: liberals are on the teaching end, but it's the administration and student body who fund their salary. In a capitalist society that's rapidly turning welfare into a "socialist taboo" it takes a particularly strong-willed young scholar to make a life of academia when they likely have a family paying their way to adulthood that puts leverage on them to be in a position to do the same for their progeny. It's hard enough for me to convince my parents that I want to study philosophy so I can "like, teach and write and stuff"--how does a young person explain to their parents that they're abandoning their "future" to go groove on Marx with a bunch of touchy-feely liberals on their love farm? Capitalist society means a rejection of joining the laborforce (I don't see how marketable a BA in critical theory from a progressive liberal arts institution is, but I dont' have high hopes) can also mean giving up a lot of dreams.

When you say: "I am sacrificing your job here, but it’s for the greater good", I'm going to have to disagree. A Professor Dean not working at Hobart College deals with the risk of working at Starbucks. 'Nickel & Dimed' is a book that's nearly ubiquitous in all social science/humanities curriculums here because employment is problem for millions of Americans. I cite Starbucks because I worked there...alongside a long-haired Marxist with a Masters Degree in Philosophy. While I'm sure he could've moved on to something a bit more elevated (both societally and financially) like say, teaching high school, the burden of paying the rent and dealing with debt beat him down to the point where he more or less lost motivation to climb out of the rut he was in. Starting cute little communes for organic farming and socratic discussion is a nice idea, one I wouldn't have a hard time joining the cause for, but when many young people have to worry about helping their parents pay the bills or carrying on a legacy of success because their grandparents or great grandparents arose from poverty via business, law, etc., it doesn't seem to me a particularly viable one. Will these unemployed leftists, thus removed from teaching posts at namebrand institutions of higher learning start activist movements? Maybe. But as you and your Zizek-fueled rants assert, leftist activism these days seems more of a circle-jerk for liberals who want to get together, feel self-righteous, and "make an effort" than anything that's going to have a major impact on society.

On the other, maybe once these people have nothing left to lose, they'll be more inclined to take more extreme action than holding a sign and walking through Central Park. And on yet another mutant third hand, I don't think it's difficult to see this kind of radical "insurgence" as a "new breed of unpatriotic terrorism", eh comrade? These times present a difficult climate for bold activism. If the hippies smoking weed and waving peace signs could be construed as a dangerous youth movement, anything move threatening than that in an even more guarded and panic-stricken age could warrant extreme backlash and hurt more than help. What's the alternative, well...

I ask: why not win the academy? The current trend in hot schools shows us that the hippie-college is popular. Hampshire, Reed, Bard, New College of Florida, Weslyan, Brown, etc. have all seen a rise in applications in recent years, and most of these institutions do in fact have liberal presidents pulling strings. These places seem exciting and unique, and their academic freedom lends itself toward solid prep for grad programs. I'm well aware that just a few paragraphs ago I criticized these types of places (moreso Hampshire than Brown) that don't produce money-makers to feed back into the financial needs of the school, but after downing some caffeine, it occurs to me that perhaps this isn't a bad time for academics to take a stronger hold on the minds of the youth and use whatever influence they might hold to manipulate the next generation. If a Hampshire college is moving a little more mainstream and makign massive strides toward becoming a highly respected institution, why reject popular institutions altogether? Champion the right ones, it's already happening. Students are forsaking Yale for Bard or NYU, and in no way is that a bad thing. Is it for most just a stepping stone toward a law degree after they get over their youthful exuberance for trendy liberal hipsterism? Maybe, but it's something to work with anyway. Conservatives use this to generate fear, after all, liberal indoctrination is so unhallowed that these sick freaks would actually teach a class on feminism *and* it's critique of christianity. However, if academia is any kind of bastion for the left, and I'll say it is, perhaps it's time that professors used whatever clout they have to take a stand for the value of what they do. Accusations of knocking students a grade for writing right-leaning essays are ludicrous--if any student went to the administration of their school and said "I pay $40,000 a year for this place and this professor is jeapordizing my GPA and therefore my future career, I demand he be reprimanded for his violation of my freedom of speech/etc." the professor would not only be subject to backlash from the administration but also parents and conservative groups on and off campus (which are everywhere, and eerily well-organized). Professors need to take a stand for what they are: extremely well-educated people who've spent the better part of their lives grasping for enlightenment and innovation. Politicians and pundits have an agenda, and are payed well for it. Professors take their education to it's terminal end and take a paycut; these are the guys who see their BA in Math not as a gateway to Business School (Math majors do tend to do the best on gradschool admittance exams) but a road to an understanding of a complex intuitive system. Likewise Philosophers who could've been lawyers. Clearly there's something more to it than hating the American Way. Let's see professors and liberal students take their value of reason and enlightenment to the streets and to the airwaves, and be *diplomatic* about it. Watching Peter Singer and Elaine Kamarck embarass Bill O'Reilly was so cathartic that it got me going on the idea. I'd recommend that academics in this scenario keep the self-righteousness low and the victim factor high. Conservatives have been tauting themselves as the poor, neglected, persecuted victims for years and at this point it's laughable. Sure, the interview will be skewed against them, but one would hope their wit and whatever monastic patience they might have developed from years cramming in university libraries might save them from this. Like Dean mentions in her article, the political left is bereft of strategy--the democratic party is an emabarassing and overly apologetic shadow of the republicans--I'm ashamed that what was percieved as the viable leftist vote in this past election stooped to "hunt down and kill the terrorist" rhetoric. I gauruntee that only made heartland conservaties chuckle and liberals cringe. Let's let the academic elite take a stand in the face of the criticism they face. George's Existential breakdown of a relatively well-understood idea (that is, Republicans speaks to pseudo-christian values, Democrats to abstract policies)requires something more meaningful for the left. Academics are the people to put it there. Maybe I'm being idealistic--hey, I'm young, inexperienced, and while I might've been the cynic amongst the idealisitc liberals at my high school, I'm certainly more idealistic than most of the older leftists I know who've taken a stab at activism and come away dejected. Nonetheless, interviews like the one drumming up the perversity of teaching a class on *FOLKLORE* at an *IVY LEAGUE SCHOOL* are embarassingly stupid and glibly manipulative to the point where I'd like to think a respectable rebuttle, might help people change their minds. Professors need to emphasize that they aren't preaching a political ideology, but rather encouraging students to question paradigms by *thinking*. America is grotesquely anti-intellectual and it's a tragedy. Yet we put students through liberal arts curriculums--why? Let's let the professors answer that question before the Republicans find themselves asking the same question and coming to a very different conclusion. Professors who are in fact shouting down students who defend conservatives should be more realistic and careful. Much is at stake. My favorite high school teacher (a harvard alumn who taught ap government) would have us argue with one another, offer relatively even-handed questions and criticisms here and there, and eventually, when the argument between various student viewpoints had run its course, he would weigh in at such a time when most of us felt like we'd fought so hard for our position that his wouldn't easily sway ours. A certain professor I have this semester started out his non-political science course by pointing out how ridiculous it is that in our society a drunken imbecile with a lot of money just woke up one day and decided to be president and did it. Was he right? Well, yeah. But it's not exactly pragmatic, he's just asking to be put on one of these dreaded conservative watchlists (sarcasm). A professor should teach first, provoke discussion second (and then very carefully), and soapbox lastly, if at all. Sure, they're experts and deserve that soapbox. However, it's a risky pedestal to stand on. Does this seem constrictive? Sure. But what would you prefer as a liberal professor: self-regulation or administrative regulation? Educators should educate, and worry about their own viewpoint on the subject matter after the student has come to his own. My first-year seminar was exemplary, our laid-back philosophy professor was very unassuming and let the class discuss the reading, which tended to be critical of contemporary society, freely, and I watched as a particularly conservative girl gradually changed her tune (she's still conservative, but with misgivings: some of us placed bets on how long it'd take before she'd crack). A lack of aggression facilitated a lack of resentment for changing her mind. Dean was pretty intense on the first day of class emphasizing that unreasonable arguments would be dismissed. I'd gladly watch neoconservatism fascism fall under that kind of atmosphere, but it has to fall because it's a weaker viewpoint, not because it's deemed unacceptable by the one in charge of grading.

I already feel George's condecending pet on the head after that last bit, but I'll leave it in because it took too much time to type to waste it. And I'm totally aware of the irony of starting out slamming idealism and then wading even deeper into it myself. Hey, no one FORCED you to read this far, ^_^.

Oh, and while I'm ranting off-topic in lala land, I'll go back to Dean's post. I wonder: what is the defense of injecting "intelligient design" or rejecting homosexuality in a realm that's supposed to be founded in logic and enlightenment? I hardly have room or authority to explain various sociological, biological, and philosphical defenses of homosexuality (suffice to say it's not an uncommon mamalian behavior in the realm of nature that religious fundamentalists claim to be such experts on), but criticizing a place of learning for teaching the result of scientific methodology borders on ludicrous. But then again, I suppose that speaks volumes about the times, doesn't it?

If the hegemony of the Right leads to an envelopment of the realm of academia (i suspect they won't, but whatever), I dont' think they'll have a difficult time overthrowing the old guard and using all the important thinkers while eschewing whatever they find unfavorable in their writing. When the Right controlls university presses, and therefore what gets "abridged" in the dumbed-down student texts, it's not hard to see, say, Locke reborn as the ardent Christian rather than a champion of personal freedom. After all, his work is the foundation of the American Constitution, eh? I think there's a very real danger of letting conservatives have the academy, and giving it up to start a new school on an organic farm seems like a pretty risky gambit to me.

Alright, it's 1:22 and I've still got the aforementioned enlightenment thinker to deal with. Hope I'm not too out of my league here, but I'd like to think that even if I am, whatever gets shot down will yield a more refined future blog-commenter.

Lastly, apologies for the length, I tend to ramble. I can only hope there was something useful buried in the barrage of verbiage.

George W.


You have my new love and respect. No more condescending pats here.

I do feel a strong urge to write an even longer responce in rebbuttle. But then you do seem pretty damn right , and my sophmoric idealism fails before your pragmatic one.(and its getting late)

In fact, between your comments and that Foreword by Joe Trippy from the Extreme Democracy site, I feel a strong challenge to my dismissive stance towards general activism, and democracy.

The next milk is on me buddy.


I see, flattering me so I get cocky and then a sucker punch when I least expect it? Very crafty, but I'm on to you...


Adam Kotsko

I must respectfully disagree with George W. on this one -- much as I love Zizek, the most adequate response in my opinion seems to be for those leftists in the academy to use the means at their disposal to get the message out in a meaningful way. There is no other part of society where leftists are so entrenched, and we need to take advantage of that.

Also, there is a difference between "liberal" and "leftist." In a lot of these discussions, I see the two conflated or thrown around as interchangable synonyms -- that is just playing into the conservative hijacking of terms. Leftists have at the foundation of their political outlook a radical critique of capitalism; liberals do not. The left wing originally formed as a reaction against liberalism. In fact, although there are some "hard right" elements in the Republican party, the liberal/conservative divide in America is still basically an argument within the classic liberal camp, especially on economic issues. By conflating "left" and "liberal," we're just helping the conservatives to paint their more moderate opponents as radicals, and simultaneously undercutting the possibility of leftist views being heard as such.


I agree with Adam. I also think that a major reason the academy is worth defending is that it is one of the few sites left where leftists have a voice and liberals outnumber conservatives. Unions have experienced rapid decline. There are few places where people find explanations for their lot in life that doesn't rely on God and or the myth of the American dream.

The liberal causes George mentions, such as the ERA, didn't seem hopeless at the time--they seemed really likely and obvious. And, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty wasn't nothing. I don't think these sorts of achievements, though, are easily linked to the Weathermen.

Evangelicals who engage in politics for religious reasons can actually benefit from defeat: it gives them a chance to test their faith. Will they be like Job and follow God even as the world crumbles around them? Will they emulate Saint Paul and spread the Word in the face of religious persecution?

I also like Will's turn: maybe the Left should actually try to win the academy. Now that would be something.

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