In the Summer 2018 issue of Academic Questions, the special issue “Can Reason Win,” and our contributors confront the fallacious argumentation that underpins the reign of identity politics and other postmodern manifestations.
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“Social Justice” and Its Postmodern Parentage
Michael Rectenwald, New York University
“Safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” “bias reporting hotlines,” the “no-platforming” of speakers, and speech codes are the accoutrements of social justice warfare on today’s campuses. But social justice, explains Michael Rectenwald in this first entry in our Can Reason Win? feature, owes little to the postwar civil rights movement of the 1960s, which espoused individual justice as a primary goal. Social justice on campuses today is the offspring of postmodernism—now in its death throes—which held that objective reality is a farce played by the powerful to oppress the weak. For Rectenwald, who in 2016 was hounded into paid leave by administrators at New York University, only postmodernism’s denial of truth can explain the rise of transgender theory, with its mantra that gender is subjective, and that sexual characteristics are overridden by gender choices.
Resuscitating Liberal Education and Democracy
John Oakley Beahrs, emeritus, Oregon Health and Science University
Insisting that liberal democracy requires an educated citizenry, John Oakley Beahrs provides a unique take on this issue’s special feature: Can Reason Win? Beahrs discusses the victory of emotionalism and victimhood over reasoned argument and debate in our universities, a victory defined by the collapse of authority throughout our culture. The collapse can be traced to the fall of Nazism in World War II and the self-examination it foisted upon America. The reconciliation with America’s racial past led to a public self-flagellation that swept our universities up in a wave of culpability. If liberal education resulted in such moral turpitude, the rebels proclaimed, the pursuit of truth upon which it is based was neither possible nor desirable. Demands for recompense were made and universities caved to demands for value-laden study, speech codes, and departmental tribalism. Beahrs explores strategies for reestablishing the liberal academic model.
Association Arguments: Dog Whistling in the Dark
Daniel A. Bonevac, University of Texas–Austin
Have you noticed lately, someone can say something incontrovertibly true like “some Muslims are terrorists,” only to get labelled anti-Muslim? How is an unsuspecting bloke spouting a truism so effortlessly transformed into a nefarious liar? Daniel Bonevac explains that this is the result of argument by “association,” which has gained widespread use and acceptance in the political arena, even while it is mostly rejected in other spheres of discourse. Association argument, Bonevac explains, has allowed political folks to get away with some shoddy logic, paving the way to impoverished debate and greater polarization. The reasons why association arguments have emerged are complex, but they stem from the Left’s Manichean view of the world and the zealotry with which it pursues its goals.
Does Reason Want to Win?
Carol Iannone, Academic Questions
Carol Iannone takes the last spot in our Can Reason Win? feature to assert that fallacious reasoning undergirds much of today’s feminist platform. Indeed, the elimination of the gender “wage gap,” parental leave legislation, and the “50-50” gender occupational balance that many feminists are fighting for have taken center stage mostly by dint of inapt generalizations, unwarranted assumptions, and faulty premises. The danger is that this could result in policy that undermines the needs of women and society at large, much as the effort to jettison the Western canon in favor of “underrepresented” works by women and minorities has undermined higher education. In both instances, differences in outcomes are interpreted as discrimination, and individual preferences and competencies are devoured by the politics of inclusion.
The Case for Colonialism
Bruce Gilley, Portland State University
The centrality of the anti-colonial critique to the multicultural enterprise is evinced by the hysterical response to Bruce Gilley’s article “The Case for Colonialism,” which appeared in Third World Quarterly in 2017 before it was withdrawn under threat of violence. After all, if western colonialism couldn’t be blamed for Third World underdevelopment, the superiority of western political and economic systems might stand out in bold relief, violating multiculturalism’s prime directive: never publish anything suggesting some cultures are better than others. Gilley’s article lays bare the erroneous foundations of anti-colonial criticism and its mantra that only western power stands between poor countries and the rarefied bliss of First World membership. Gilley’s analysis suggests that colonialism in many parts of the world was, on balance, beneficial, and lands a blow to the notion that Third World poverty is mostly a consequence of historical injustice and western mendacity.
Homogenous: The Political Affiliations of Elite Liberal Arts College Faculty
Mitchell Langbert, Brooklyn College
Mitchell Langbert’s carefully conceived study of 8,688 tenure track, Ph.D.–holding professors from fifty-one of the sixty-six top ranked liberal arts colleges finds a severe imbalance in political party affiliation. While it has previously been shown that college faculty lean to the left, this exhaustive analysis reveals that 38 percent of the institutions studied are actually “Republican free” (i.e. have zero Republicans). Langbert includes analyses of political affiliation by region, gender, institution, and academic field, and outlines possible causes and methods for reducing “viewpoint- homogeneity” in America’s colleges.
Sexual Assault and the Benefit of the Doubt
Dan Subotnik, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center at Touro College
Dan Subotnik points out that policies designed to lend unverified credence to the testimony of college-aged, female complainants—as many advocates recommend—is complicated by the variety of forces that may throw an alleged victim’s recall into doubt. Subotnik reminds readers that it was some early second-wave feminists themselves who celebrated the aggressive sexual fantasies of women and the influence they have on female sexual behavior. Moreover, the power of sexual shame and guilt often impacts female judgement and interpretation of events. On top of all of this is the unique nature of sexual assault as a crime: unlike robbery or battery, sexual assault occurs during encounters that are often desired by both parties. The truth is, Subotnik maintains, the “Pandora’s box” of female sexuality has been opened, and it is unlikely that colleges and universities can easily avoid its messy, nasty, and perilous nature by administrative fiat.
Critical Race Theory in Education: Where Farce Meets Tragedy
Jeff Zorn, Santa Clara University
Jeff Zorn traces the evolution of Critical Race Theory (CRT) from its origins in the 1970s’ to its place of permanent veneration in the nation’s graduate schools of education. Like its counterparts in the postmodern academic Left (CLT, Queer Theory, Critical Semiotics, Transformative Ludic Feminism), CRT is self-contained and reductive, starting and ending with the assumption that any problem in the education of non-white youth is the result of racism: Schools are pervasively racist; curriculum and pedagogy shortchange and alienate students of color; white teachers harbor low expectations and crippling biases; equality of opportunity, colorblind merit, and objective assessment are cruel delusions. As a result, any search for improvement is scorned in favor of “race-first oppositionality.”
Jay Nordlinger, National Review
Given the reticence American academe and social studies textbook publishers seem to have toward discussing communism’s horrors, new studies that truly improve our understanding of communism seem to arrive at a particularly propitious time. As Jay Nordlinger points out in his discussion of A. James McAdams’s Vanguard of the Revolution: The Global Idea of the Communist Party, roughly 38 percent of the world’s population had at one time lived under communist rule, yet we have only cursory understanding of this system’s appeal, its ability to rise to power against any real evidence of success. McAdams’s treatment provides a patient, thorough exploration of the role of the Communist Party in the spread and consolidation of communism across large swaths of the world. This is important, writes Nordlinger, because political victories are never permanent, and new generations emerge that are “ripe for seduction.” If understanding communism’s lure is a first step toward securing its defeat, James McAdams has “done his part.”
Genocide in Guatemala?
The Guatemalan civil war, which lasted from the early 1960s to 1996, left many thousands of innocents dead, the majority of them killed by government forces. But the 1996 peace accords between the government and the National Guatemalan Revolutionary Union (URNG) contained no human rights indictments, and the road to justice for those responsible in the Guatemalan government has been long and strewn with obstacles. As David Stoll explains it, justice has been stymied by the mutual amnesty provided by the 1996 accords, the requisite specificity of international human rights law, and the sometimes shrill and unverifiable claims of journalists and activists. According to Stoll, Pam Yates’s Resistance Saga, a trilogy of three films on this subject (When the Mountains Tremble (1983); Granito: How to Nail a Dictator (2011); 500 Years (2017)), exemplifies both the ardor of human rights activists in bringing perpetrators to justice, and the willingness to play fast and loose with the facts in order to do so.
In conclusion, John Haynes reviews Paul Hollander’s latest book, From Benito Mussolini to Hugo Chavez: Intellectuals and a Century of Political Hero Worship, and John Oakeley Beahrs in a second appearance in this issue considers Frederick Crews’s second attempt at a demolition of the founder of psychoanalysis, Freud: The Making of an Illusion. And, finally, Peter Wood returns to Books, Articles, and Items of Academic Interest.
Two of this issue’s articles (Bruce Gilley’s, “The Case for Colonialism,” and Mitchell Langbert’s, “Homogenous: The Political Affiliations of Elite Liberal Arts College Faculty”) are available for free on NAS’s website.
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