Social-justice ideology is turning higher education into an engine of progressive political advocacy, according to a new report by the National Association of Scholars. Left-wing activists, masquerading as professors, are infiltrating traditional academic departments or creating new ones—departments such as “Solidarity and Social Justice”—to advance their cause. They are entering the highest rung of college administration, from which perch they require students to take social-justice courses, such as “Native Sexualities and Queer Discourse” or “Hip-hop Workshop,” and attend social-justice events—such as a Reparations, Repatriation, and Redress Symposium or a Power and Privilege Symposium—in order to graduate.
But social-justice education is merely a symptom of an even deeper perversion of academic values: the cult of race and gender victimology, otherwise known as “diversity.” The diversity cult is destroying the very foundations of our civilization. It is worth first exploring, however, why social-justice education is an oxymoron.
Why shouldn’t an academic aspire to correcting perceived social ills? The nineteenth-century American land-grant universities and the European research universities were founded, after all, on the premise that knowledge helps society progress. But social justice is a different beast entirely. When a university pursues social justice, it puts aside its traditional claim to authority: the disinterested search for knowledge. We accord universities enormous privileges. Their denizens are sheltered from the hurly-burly of the marketplace on the assumption that they will pursue truth wherever it will take them, unaffected by political or economic pressures. The definition of social justice, however, is deeply political, entailing a large number of contestable claims about the causes of socioeconomic inequality. Social-justice proponents believe that those claims are settled, and woe to anyone who challenges them on a college campus. There are, however, alternative explanations—besides oppression and illegitimate power—for ongoing inequalities, taboo though they may be in academia. Amazon.com Gift Card i... Buy New $25.00 (as of 06:10 EST - Details)
A social-justice agenda, therefore, is a political commitment, and politics is not disinterested. Indeed, it is often tribal. Such tribalism caricatures political opponents and whitewashes political leaders, ignoring facts along the way, as shown both by the frenzied hostility to Donald Trump on the left and by his elevation to status of wise statesman and paragon of truth-telling by his most enthusiastic supporters, including in the conservative intelligentsia.
In his 1918 lecture, “Science as a Vocation,” Max Weber criticized the conflation of intellectual work with political action: “Whenever the man of science introduces his personal value judgment, a full understanding of the facts ceases.” The primary task of a teacher, Weber said, is to help his students recognize what Weber called “inconvenient” facts—inconvenient, that is, to the students’ party opinions. And for every party opinion, Weber observed, some facts are extremely inconvenient. Our political understanding of the world is partial; we will emphasize certain aspects of reality that buttress our values and deemphasize other aspects that contradict those values. According to Weber, when an academic pronounces on how one should act, he becomes a prophet or demagogue, neither of whom belong on the academic platform.
Weber adduced another reason for abjuring politics in the classroom. Amusingly—an adverb that does not usually modify the great sociologist—it has been rendered completely irrelevant by twentieth-century education trends. A professor should not inflict his politics on his students, Weber said, because those students may not challenge his authority: “It is somewhat too convenient to demonstrate one’s courage in taking a stand where the audience and possible opponents are condemned to silence.” To which one can only respond: if only! Leave aside such student abuse of the adults in charge as the scourging of Nicholas Christakis at Yale, of Bret Weinstein at Evergreen State College, and of Allison Stanger at Middlebury College, among others. The goal of the ordinary classroom today is to get ignorant students babbling about whatever idle thoughts pass through their heads without showing any intellectual deference to their professor. The number of professors who deserve such deference, however, is by now depressingly low, thanks to the triumph of social-justice ideology.
Of course, many people on college campuses today are still “condemned to silence”—not out of any respect for faculty authority but because they disagree with the premises of victim politics. Conservative Harvard law students, a professor there recently told me, refrain from challenging the regnant dogmas in class, terrified that their remarks may end up on social media and thus jeopardize their careers. This unwillingness to air inconvenient facts—facts such as the connection between family breakdown and poverty—is precisely the shrinking of intellectual freedom against which Weber warned. And if a Harvard law student, occupying the closest position to riches, power, and prestige that a university can guarantee, nevertheless feels acutely vulnerable in his dissent from the orthodoxies, what is a lowly undergraduate or even post-doc to do?