PC Culture

Subversion in the Garb of Social Justice

Cambridge University, October 23, 2010. REUTERS/Paul Hackett
The assault on the Western canon continues.

Lola Olufemi was bitter that she had been targeted. Led by Olufemi, an officer in the Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU), a group of activist students had started a petition to “decolonize” the university’s English curriculum, inspired by “support” from the Marxist, post-colonial academic Dr. Priyamvada Gopal. When the Telegraph published Olufemi’s photo on its front page, she and the “decolonize English” campaign met with strong online backlash, and she accused the paper of a “very targeted form of harassment.”

If you’re unaware of this latest row, you’re not alone; it is easy to lose track of individual battles in the unending war on classical education. The death by a thousand cuts of Western academia started with the Rhodes Must Fall campaign at Oxford, fomented by someone who was himself a Rhodes Scholar. The rot has now spread to Cambridge, where over 30 departments are being targeted by students and a certain section of academic commissars who have taken it upon themselves to determine whether courses are too dominated by white, male, Euro-centric perspectives.

Britain usually follows the U.S. in its experience of such unwelcome post-modern phenomena. The Cambridge fiasco naturally comes after Stanford and Yale caved in to student and academic pressure for “decolonization.” At Yale, 160 students petitioned against teaching Shakespeare in an English class. The petition read, in part, “The Major English Poets sequences creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of color. When students are made to feel so alienated that they get up and leave the room, or get up and leave the major, something is wrong. At Stanford, a petition to reinstate Western History as a course met with student protests last year. Needless to say, the craven professors of these august institutions put up little resistance to their students’ extreme demands.

Putting aside the baffling absurdity of students attempting to decide what is supposed to be taught to them, let’s consider a few aspects of these spats. We’re talking about Stanford, Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge here, not Oberlin or Evergreen State College. The future of the West is shaped in these elite schools. That they, as institutions, refused to fight back with any vigor against those waging war on classical Western education means something, or should. The complete destruction of a pedagogical regime that has served the world admirably for centuries is currently underway in the Western academy, and those best positioned to do something about it are sitting on their hands. This is alarming, to put it mildly.

It is easy to ignore these slow and persistent attempts to change the education system from within, but it’s also a mistake.

It is not, however, surprising. As I have pointed out previously, there is an observable pattern to all these movements across campuses. They follow the tactics of infiltration, subversion, and coercion in a Gramscian “long march through the institutions.” Their success, which would have been unimaginable during the Cold war, is all too real now, and the reason should be obvious: Most of the social sciences and humanities departments at elite Western institutions of higher learning have become ideological echo chambers designed to propagate and preach, rather than promote philosophical inquiry. The professors who populate them are less interested in teaching as that noble vocation was once understood than in acting as commissars, deciding upon and enforcing a party line.

It is easy to ignore these slow and persistent attempts to change the education system from within, but it’s also a mistake. As Michael Shermer noted in the Scientific American, there’s a broader subversive aim being served here. Most of these incidents are essentially a type of power grab by one set of ideological, left-wing academics who use gullible students as pawns in their broader war against the Western canon and rational inquiry. The protest against Charles Murray in the United States was led by such academics, as were a host of other similar disgraces, very much including the the decolonize movement at Cambridge. Consider Dr. Gopal’s suggestions of black and minority writers to counter the “whitewashing” of English literature in the university’s curriculum, which include five authors, all of them radical leftists and feminists.

Surely, if Gopal and her student charges just wanted more minority representation in the curriculum, they’d include some conservative authors as well? Why not the philosophy of Thomas Sowell, who has questioned the madness of cultural relativism? Why not Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo’s phenomenal work on how foreign monetary aid is destroying Africa? Why not Churchill’s favorite Indian conservative “man of letters,” Nirad C. Chaudhuri, who dedicated a now-legendary book that was banned in early 1950s socialist India “to the memory of the British Empire in India, which conferred subjecthood upon us, but withheld citizenship. . . . all that was good and living within us was made, shaped and quickened by the same British rule”?

The answer is, of course, glaringly obvious: The real aim of Gopal and her ilk is promoting viewpoint conformity, not ethnic diversity.

These days, in universities across Britain, courses which deal with political philosophy hardly ever teach classical theories, whether Greek or Roman. Lip service is paid to Thucydides, Plato, Hobbes, and Cicero. Conservatism as a political philosophy is not even touched upon, and not much is discussed about Burke, Oakeshott, or Palmerston. Page after page is, however, dedicated to Foucault, Derrida, and Marx.

This is subversive political activism in the garb of social justice, and we ignore it at our own peril.

Sumantra Maitra is a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham and a columnist for the Telegraph, Quillette, and the Claremont Review of Books.

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