In a courageous Quillette essay titled “Georgetown’s Cultural Revolution,” Georgetown law professor Lama Abu-Odeh reflects on what the recent brouhaha at Georgetown law school over a professor’s statements about the performance of black law students illustrates about the broader trend in American academia. Professor Abu-Odeh’s observations are all the more noteworthy as she is a Palestinian Muslim feminist leftist.
According to Abu-Odeh, when nearly all non-black faculty signed a letter that “acknowledge[d] the many levels at which [they] must confront ongoing white supremacist notions underlying ideas of merit that may contaminate assessment and performance” (she’s quoting the letter), “two white professors of the boomer generation with plenty of progressive credentials pushed back”—but only very weakly. Of these weak statements and the silence they received, Abu-Odeh observes:
The silence to my mind is telling. It speaks of the lack of resources within progressive thinking that could be drawn upon to resist the trend that has bedeviled American academia over the past few years. The academy is a different place today than it was only a year ago and was different a year ago than it was five years before. Terror and dread fill academic workers, professors, and staff alike, and it is everywhere. Neither the call for distinguishing between unconscious bias and structural racism; nor for dismantling “merit” so that “minorities” succeed, seem able to do the work the authors of these emails want them to do. They fail to deliver responses of the kind, “Let’s just talk about this. Maybe the problem is overdetermined and is not reducible to ‘unconscious bias.’” What they beget instead is a combination of dread and virtuous self-congratulation. These two sentiments, dread married to virtue, constitute to my mind the affective embodiment of progressive ideology prevalent among white liberals as developed in its most privileged space: academia. They are typical. They are two faces of the same coin: flip and you see dread, flip again and you see virtue.
Progressive liberals are blind to the fact that there is a regime take-over apace everywhere in academic institutions. A new ruling elite is taking over academic institutions by using its “minority status” to exercise a “soft” coup and is appealing to the minoritarianism of progressive ideology to legitimize its coup—or, if you like, to “manufacture consent.” I will call the adherents of this ideology the “progressoriat.”
The reason that challenging any aspect of this dominant ideology is taboo is because it leaves you vulnerable to the charge that you are uncomfortable with the project of empowering minorities—not just the transfers of power from traditional elites to historically disadvantaged groups that has already begun to take place in the academy, but further transfers of power. The only acceptable response when confronted by any aspect of the ideology that has facilitated this coup is to enthusiastically endorse it—to celebrate it. If you’re not a minority, anything less risks being interpreted as dread at the prospect of your own imminent loss of status—or, if you are, as evidence that your soul has been “colonized” by white supremacists. As I said, virtue as the other side of dread….
The progressoriat are unable to talk about their impending demise because they have already used their own institutional power over decades to drive away conservatives. They turned their academic institution into a partisan echo chamber. Residing in an echo chamber only increases your moral certitude. Now they are being given a taste of their own brutal medicine. Meantime, the new elite is acting ruthlessly and impatiently and is only happy with declarations of complete submission. Any sign of hesitation on the part of a signatory—”Maybe we should talk about free speech too?”—is met with expressions of exasperation by the all-powerful members of the victim minority faculty. No hesitation or nuance is allowed: nothing but unequivocal loyalty oaths. The progressoriat can only repeat, “I believe in the cause. I believe. I believe. Believe me I believe.”
If this echoes a Maoist take-over, that’s because it is. It passes the sniff test.