Not To Fix Higher Education
had to happen the Bush victory has restored conservatives’
faith in government. Just look at National Review Online,
Kurtz of the Hudson Institute has come up with a novel solution
to the problem of political correctness in our universities: federal
Kurtz thinks that by putting another Lynne Cheney or Bill Bennett
type in charge of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the
Bush administration will "impart a lasting cultural legacy"
and "do something serious to take back the academy."
that Kurtz is right and the National Endowment for the Humanities
really has that much influence upon our universities, what happens
the next time we get a Democrat administration? The Democrats would
more than undo whatever good the Bush administration did once they
got their hands on the power. This is a very basic objection to
any positive use of federal power, one that constitutional conservatives
and libertarians have made time and time again. But the thought
doesn’t seem to occur to Kurtz, and when big government conservatives
do address it they usually argue that they’ll just recapture the
government eventually and make it all better again. Nevermind that
in the meantime an institution as valuable as the academy might
Kurtz’ proposal almost certainly would not work. The evidence Kurtz
himself provides suggests why. Describing how the Left came to dominate
the academy in the first place, Kurtz writes "Fifteen years
ago, a radical feminist like Catherine MacKinnon would have been
dismissed, even in the New York Times, as a leftist loon. Now, having
packed the law schools and women’s studies programs with her acolytes,
MacKinnon writes the nation’s sexual harassment laws."
other words, the Left itself used private means, not the state,
to install its agenda in the universities. MacKinnon and her ilk
did not use the law to take control of the academy, they used the
academy to take control of the law. Given the Left’s preference
for the use of state power wherever possible, it’s likely that the
reason they didn’t use it here is simply because they knew it wouldn’t
work. What professor in his right mind, or even a left-wing professor
who might not be in his right mind, is going to listen to a politically-appointed
educrat from the National Endowment for the Humanities?
Kurtz plan itself is nothing to worry about then. But his reflexive
appeal to federal power should set off alarm bells. Why doesn’t
it occur to the big government conservatives at least to try private
measures first, especially when the Left has shown that they can
work? It probably has to do with the nature of the latter-day conservative
movement as a whole and its inordinate focus on politics. The Left
loves the state, sure, but surprisingly Leftists often seem to have
more of a life outside of politics than conservatives do. Leftists
pursue a wide range of careers and interests, including scholarship
and journalism, and they push their agenda in every walk of life.
All too many conservatives, by contrast, pour all of their civic
activity into politics.
might object that conservatives are active in business and religion,
and that they’re just too busy making money to go into the media
or academy. But this isn’t true; the business world (specifically
big business, not the little guy) is as politically correct and
statist as the rest of the culture. Most of the major religious
denominations are likewise under siege from the Left.
where are all the conservatives? Like Kurtz, they’re out there trying
to solve society’s problems by electing more Congressmen and crafting
public policy. When it fails to stop the creep of cultural Marxism,
rather than try another approach, they dump all the more effort
as a microcosm of society, illustrate the point quite well. On any
given campus if there is a right-wing organization at all it is
probably one affiliated with a national political party, either
the GOP or the Libertarian Party. By contrast on most campuses the
most active left-wing group is not the College Democrats, but the
cause du jour, whether it’s the anti-"sweatshop" people
or the homosexual club, or the Mumiacs, or whatever. These groups
are politically involved, to be sure, but they’re also largely cultural,
and rather than try to accomplish their ends by electing a Democrat
to congress, they stage sit-ins or boycotts or "candlelight
vigils" against "hate." These groups don’t accomplish
much but even so they demonstrate the Left’s interest in life beyond
we want to stop political correctness in the academy and elsewhere,
we must do precisely the opposite of what Kurtz advocates. Opponents
of the Left must not only use the government less, but even think
about it less, and apply their efforts instead into the culture.
A good place to start is to learn ancient Greek. By doing so you’ll
be helping to preserve and extend Western civilization, both the
pagan writers and the Bible. Nothing could be more politically incorrect.
McCarthy is a graduate student in classics at Washington University
in St. Louis.
© 2001 LewRockwell.com