Tag Archives: academia

Ça ira, ça ira, ça ira

Stop the presses! Josh Barro (NYC; B.A., psychology, Harvard) has an opinion.

Josh Barro (son of Robert Barro, Ph.D., economics, Harvard) has some more opinions.

Josh Barro gets paid to put his opinions in print. Jay Yarow (NYC; M.A., journalism, NYU) likes Josh Barro’s opinions.

So does Matty Glesias (DC; B.A., philosophy, Harvard).

Josh, Jay, and Matty, of course, are some of the most ‘privileged’ people in America. They’re very highly educated, you see. Josh has a little piece of paper that says “Harvard” on it, and that little piece of paper assures him that he will never be cast out among the poors, the middle Americans, the 2 Broke Girls viewers. But, you see, he earned it, by being the son of a Harvard man. A legacy. An aristocrat.

Have you ever met a minor aristocrat?

A minor aristocrat, that is, not someone like Donald Trump. Donald Trump is not a minor aristocrat. Donald Trump has serious money, and his father had serious money before him. No one with that much money needs to be insecure—and Donald Trump is not. His aesthetic is kitschy. His hair is kitschy. And he owns Mar-a-Lago, which was built by the richest woman in the United States. Donald Trump is an aristocrat—he’s good at making people forget it, but he is an aristocrat—but he’s secure in his position.

Josh Barro, on the other hand, is a snot-nosed kid who went to Harvard. What does he have? A piece of paper and a journalism gig. Is Josh Barro, who couldn’t tell Montana from Mongolia, a particularly talented journalist? Could he, in a double-blind test, outcompete the poors, the yokels, the disgusting average people of gross, inferior white America? If Josh Barro were hit by a truck, his bizarrely large ears and bilious guts splattered into a million giblets across the pavement of his coastal gated community, his blood separated from his veins and dripped into the sewers to ever so slightly increase the concentration of cocaine in the local water supply, would anyone care? No. Josh Barro, the minor aristocrat, is replaceable. He is privileged, but he is still insecure.

If you ever meet a minor aristocrat, insecurity will be the most obvious thing about him. It’s stamped on their round, Charlie Brown-like skulls in bright flashing letters. But they have their excuses. The minor aristocrat doesn’t shop at Walmart—not because it’s ‘low-class’; he opposes their labor practices, so he buys from Amazon instead. The minor aristocrat despises the white working class—not because he knows he might someday lose his privilege; he knows their hate is holding America back, so he says they’re all inferior, maybe even subhuman. The minor aristocrat invents an ever-expanding set of shibboleths and calls anyone who doesn’t master them Satanic (sorry, “fascist”)—not because he wants to distinguish himself from the yokels, but because justice demands it. And his shibboleths are bundled up as progressivism, socialism, Marxism, whatever sort of egalitarianism, and taught in private schools and prestigious colleges, so that only the privileged can learn them. As for Donald Trump—he’s not secure; he’s just a prole. The minor aristocrats are on top of the world.

If you ever meet a minor aristocrat, get him drunk, or at least angry. Wait for him to start fantasizing about rounding up the Republicans and slaughtering them, burning down the South with everyone in it, herding Christians into gas chambers. I’ve met my share of that lot, and they usually do. Sometimes they don’t bother trying to hide it. Brian Leiter, a disgraced law professor who once tried to insult me by calling me a “DMCA violator”, has repeatedly compared conservatives to the Taliban, labeled them “brain-dead”“disgusting”, and “bits of slime”, and calledtwice!—for their mass imprisonment. And then there’s Josh Barro. This isn’t your garden-variety performative internet bile; I’ve heard some minor aristocrats take even worse lines in real life. The worst ones are the most assured and the least secure—the second-generation Harvard graduates so sure that they’re part of the ‘elite’ and the first-generation Brahmin converts from flyover states, who fantasize about things like—and I am not making this up—holding banjo burnings to ‘protest racism’ or refusing to eat fried chicken because it’s associated with the South, and what would The Left think?

Leiter recently quoted the postmodernist professor Richard Rorty’s 1997 prediction that the “old industrialized democracies” would have a new Weimar period:

Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. …

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. …

All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

“Badly educated” is an interesting phrase, especially in this context: it contrasts with “college graduates”. To Rorty, these are the two opposing sides of a binary. The “badly educated”, i.e. the bad, are people who aren’t college graduates. Graduating from college is a spiritual transformation: the student is born again in the Spirit of Education, and transformed into a graduate—who is increasingly the only sort of person deemed worthy of even a job. And “education” is something one is socialized into: the student’s spiritual transformation is brought about by spending four years in a separate environment controlled by the Highly Enlightened, the most Spiritually Transformed of them all; and going to lots of lectures (sermons) and studying lots of books—especially the favored canon (holy texts, although the word “canon” itself originally meant “Church law”)—often while sleep-deprived (suggestible), and often getting drunk (becoming more suggestible) or using drugs (becoming more suggestible) in the off-hours; and, in exchange for access to these separate environments controlled by the Highly Enlightened, giving them lots and lots of money.

If we apply the usual tools of materialist analysis, we find that, since the Highly Enlightened exert influence over their students, and since the students pay the Highly Enlightened lots and lots of money to attend their cult compounds universities, the Highly Enlightened have a strong incentive to justify their position ideologically (by, for example, setting up a binary opposition between the virtuous “college graduates” and the unvirtuous “badly educated”) and materially (by turning their certificates of Spiritual Transformation into certificates of ideological ability to hold a job), and that this incentive is shared by the elite, who have the money and the connections to get themselves and their children into the most Spiritually Transforming cult compounds universities of all, and especially by the bankers, who provide loans (which are undischargeable and which minors can legally sign for) to seekers of Spiritual Transformation.

Strangely, this point seems to go unmade in academia. Even Freddie deBoer thinks ‘free’ college is a reasonable economic-leftist position. Presumably, one is to question everything except the institutions telling you to question everything…

But we could always question the idea that an education is something you get by sitting in a room in college, that a degree is a mark of Spiritual Transformation that ought to be required of everyone who wants a job, and that minor aristocrats like Josh and Jay and Matty are #important #thinkfluencers, not nervous snot-nosed manchildren pushing the interests of their class as hard as they can in the desperate hope that they can hold onto their position.

“That was disgusting! Osama is a freedom fighter!”

i was on campus a couple of days after 9.11, and i had already recorded a spot for all things considered. they were looking for someone who would express any sort of anger, could not find one among their staff or usual contributors, i gather. i had been talking to my (now-deceased) brother jim, who was an unbelievable cynic, raconteur, and artist of the hyperbole. ‘i want to fly over the middle east and see nothing but piles of smoking rubble.’ i started there. you know, i too want vengeance. in fact this distinction between justice and vengeance is complete jive, just a way of pretending you don’t want revenge, or collectivizing responsibility, effectively offloading it from everyone entirely. i had three minutes, years of argument behind it. then i said: but even if it is legitimate to take vengeance, you are morally obliged to take your vengeance only precisely on the perpetrators. no burning rubble, my brother, without osama & co inside it. only them.

next day, robert merrill (a senior colleague), confronted me in the hall and said “that was disgusting!” the next words out his mouth were ‘osama is a freedom fighter!’ i felt a marked cooling toward me and rallying around him after that.

then for whatever political reason, they put my job to a national search. i did ‘six names of beauty’ as the talk, just or soon-to-published by routledge. anyway, it defines beauty’ as ‘the object of longing.’ then i put up my childhood crush emma peel. then i went on to buntings and roses and the universe as a whole. a lit prof, soheila ghaussy, hopped up and started saying my whole thing was just (paraphrasing) coming from the dick, and weren’t millennia of oppression enough? they hired someone else, who did not work out at all.

oh, and then there’s this, where i posted a miranda lambert song to my blog, which led to academics calling in the police and academics firing me. finally water-boarded to death!

what i have found over and over again is that teaching, research, and service are irrelevant in an academic career (research, for sure). the only real criterion of advancement is conformity. that’s why you have all these mediocrities at the very upper reaches: mere careerists. that’s why the senior level of the profession now is lilliputian compared to the last cohort.


Here is one of Robert Merrill’s syllabi.

Is Marxism marginalized in academia?


Phil Sandifer sent me a copy of Neoreaction A Basilisk, because this is the internet and shouting a lot is a viable strategy. I don’t know, man. But it’s an opportunity to get this blog up to an average of one post per day.

Sandifer writes:

Indeed, there’s actually a significant leftist intellectual tradition that can fairly legitimately claim to be completely suppressed by the American media and education system, and that’s well-known for observing that revolutions and transitions between ideologies generally come down to people with material power protecting that power. …

Marxism, especially in its good old-fashioned “a spectre is haunting Europe” revolutionary sense (which is a much larger body of work than Soviet Communism, and indeed one that contains countless scathing critiques of Leninism and Stanlinism) is absolutely one of the positions most completely excluded from the Cathedral, its use in Anglophone politics restricted to a derisive term slung about in the way that “fascist” is applied to Donald Trump, only with less accuracy.

It’s certainly true that that’s the way “Marxist” is used in Anglophone politics—but is Marxism “completely suppressed” by the American media and education system? Given that the sitting president of the United States of America was a no-shit Marxist-Leninist in college, this is somewhat hard to believe.

According to the Open Syllabus Project, the Communist Manifesto is the third most-assigned text in college syllabi, with 3,189 citations—behind only Plato’s Republic, with 3,573 citations, and The Elements of Style, with 3,934.

I didn’t have to read the Communist Manifesto in college, but I did have to read it in high school. Right before Animal Farm, admittedly, but Orwell was a socialist, and we certainly weren’t reading Mises. When I went to college, one of the department heads was an outspoken pro-Cuba Communist, another was an ex-anarchist who had recently and reluctantly converted to Rawlsianism, and I was assigned to read Emma Goldman, Voltairine de Cleyre, various texts on applied Marxism which I can’t remember because I never showed up to that class (because the professor made it obvious that anyone who turned in the papers and pretended to agree with Marxism would get at least a B), something by Robert Paul Wolff which I also can’t remember, some critical legal studies, and a chunk of Capital. The only author I was ever assigned who could be classified as a rightist, aside from the Fascist Manifesto (by a professor who hated Hegel, because he hated Hegel), was Nozick, who hardly counts.

I also took a class on activism taught by a team of self-professed Trotskyists who worked for the Democratic Party, so.

Back to the Open Syllabus Project. Marxists are not commonly assigned, but Marx is squarely within the canon. The Communist Manifesto is the third most frequently assigned book in college syllabi. The Communist Manifesto is more frequently assigned in colleges than Aristotle’s Ethics (#6), Leviathan (#7), The Prince (#8), Hamlet (#10), The Odyssey (#11), Orientalism (#12—yes, really), Canterbury Tales (#16), On Liberty (#19), Foucault’s Power (#26) On the Origin of Species (#27), Augustine’s Confessions (#28), Walden (#31), and The Wealth of Nations (#35).

Marx shows up again in the top 200 with Capital (#44) and The German Ideology (#158). Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed comes in at #99, and Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth at #115. Scrolling down a bit, Adorno’s Culture Industry ranks #207.

An EconLog post links to a survey that finds that 11% of professors are ‘radicals’ and 3% are Marxists, but the survey went out to all professors, and one would not learn Marxism in a chemistry class. In the humanities, 5% are Marxists (but 19% are ‘radicals’); in the social sciences, 18% are; in liberal arts colleges, 12% are; and in sociology, 26% of professors are Marxists.

Also, the Harvard Crimson endorsed the Khmer Rouge, Walter Duranty won a Pulitzer for Stalinist apologia, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, personally requested that Warner Bros. make, under close collaboration with the federal government of the United States, a movie based on a former US ambassador to the USSR’s pro-Stalin memoirs, which movie was of course itself pro-Stalin.

The professional intelligentsia: the brightest of our society?

Ross Douthat wrote a NYT opinion piece on Haidt’s studies of political bias in academia and the revival of reactionary political thought.

The NYT has a comments section, with a tab called ‘NYT Picks’. There are ten NYT Picks for Douthat’s article. Here’s one of the ten.

I consider the “professional intelligentsia” as the best informed and brightest of our society. Particularly in the sciences, these people are trained to be objective fact finders. Perhaps Ross might consider their left tilt not as some sort of cultural disease or selfishness but rather as the way they choose to a better world and a better society. Given my choice between following scientists and university professors or our conservative demagogues preaching the apocalypse over health care for the poor, I can assure I will proudly align behind the brains.

Jonathan Haidt, apparently, is a ghost in a horror movie. Some people can see him, and some people can’t. I pointed Topher Hallquist to Haidt a while ago; soon after, he wrote a post called American Conservatism Is Intellectually Bankrupt, which mentioned Haidt only to dismiss him offhand, with no indication of familiarity with what Haidt says beyond “gee, maybe there ought to be more conservatives in academia”.

Haidt’s claim isn’t that diversity of ideas is itself a necessary good. He’s not calling for flat-earthers in geology departments—not that Hallquist would see the difference. What he says instead is that it would be good for his field if its Overton window didn’t shut out the majority of this country’s population: if there were more conservatives in social psychology, it would be less likely to fall victim to obvious errors, such as defining “not formally taking a female colleague’s side in her sexual harassment complaint against her subordinate (given little information about the case)” as inherently immoral, calling left-wing authoritarianism “the Loch Ness Monster of political psychology” as Robert Altemeyer did, failing to rigorously investigate stereotype accuracy, or trying to measure ‘moral foundations’ by asking survey-takers about their support for conservative political positions  and then acting surprised when liberals and conservatives appear to have different moral foundations. I won’t summarize all of this set’s writing here; it’s all available online, and it’s not hard to read.

Now consider Jose Duarte’s report of being rejected from a position for disapproving of Jimmy Carter’s position on Palestinian terrorism. Does what Duarte thinks of Jimmy Carter have anything to do with his ability as a social psychologist? Does evangelical Christianity have anything to do with the ability in linguistics of the Ph.D. candidate mentioned in Hallquist’s post? (Note that Christians are probably overrepresented in linguistics relative to other academic disciplines, because missionaries.) I would be surprised if Hallquist believed in a General Factor of Correctness.

Haidt’s other claim is that this ideological skew in academia is recent. Specifically, it happened sometime after 1990. Was liberalism proven to be objectively true sometime between 1990 and 2000? Of course not. But something happened. What could it be?

If you didn’t click that link: it goes to a Google ngrams display for ‘culture war’. The term’s usage rate started rising from near zero in the early ’90s and hasn’t shown any sign of going down. If the political polarization of America into two distinct pseudo-ethnic factions began at the same time as the polarization of social psychology…

Progressives today believe in all sorts of prejudice: overt classism, unconscious bias, hatred of the Other, and so on. But, as that NYT comment shows, they don’t think any of that applies to them.

At least not when it comes to the people they truly hate.