Very interesting read today by David Gordon in “Minding the Campus” (via Insty). In his piece he talks about the subject of history being at present in the best of times and in the worst of times, to mangle Dickens.
What am I talking about? Well, the blog in which Gordon’s article appears subs its title with “Reforming our Universities”.
Why is that important? We’ve talked about it in the past. It is where liberal America has set up shop for decades. And the effect is never been stronger than now. In fact, a lot of what you see as the changing attitudes in America can, I think – at least in part – be traced to academia.
Gordon notes its beginning:
This extraordinary bias began in the late 1960s with the anti-Vietnam war protests. Many participants, at least those who subsequently went into academia, have never gotten over it. Their fossilized views have made their own disciplines largely museums of dead ideologies. Another of the remarkable changes within the historical profession has been the growth of women’s history. With only a negligible representation in 1975, almost 10% of all historians today identify themselves as historians of gender and women’s affairs.
What bias is Gordon talking about? Well it’s a bias that he sees as “mangling history” to our detriment:
The evolution of the historical profession in the United States in the last fifty years provides much reason for celebration. It provides even more reason for unhappiness and dread. Never before has the profession seemed so intellectually vibrant. An unprecedented amount of scholarship and teaching is being devoted to regions outside of the traditional American concentration on itself and Europe. New subjects of enquiry — gender, race and ethnicity — have developed. Never have historians been so influenced by the methodology and contributions of other disciplines, from anthropology to sociology.
At the same time, never has the historical profession been so threatened. Political correctness has both narrowed and distorted enquiry. Traditional fields demanding intellectual rigor, such as economic and intellectual history, are in decline. Even worse, education about Western civilization and the Enlightenment, that font of American liberties, and the foundation of modern industrial, scientific and liberal world civilization, has come to be treated with increasing disdain at colleges and universities.
Now call me crazy, but you can see easily the effect of what Gordon is talking about today in the last election. Increasingly students (and that includes further down the academic chain in high schools) know less and less about our history and traditions and more and more about, well, women’s studies, gender studies, things which have little bearing on economic and intellectual history – for instance:
The problem with this is that it has helped force out many other kinds of historical enquiry. It is important to emphasize women’s role in society and in history. However, it is difficult to see how a feminist perspective could contribute very much to a purely economic history of the English industrial revolution (as opposed to its social consequences), or to a diplomatic history of Europe between the Napoleonic and the First World War. As a result, these kinds of studies are receiving ever less attention.
We all understand that women and minorities were mistreated. Got it. And we all know that was wrong, with 21st Century hindsight. But what happened back when all that bad stuff was going on, in terms of economic and intellectual history, is still critically important today.
Instead history’s “new focus” has helped bolster both the “victimization” and “entitlement” mentality:
Worst of all, women’s history has contributed to the current holy trinity of race, gender and class that dominates the historical profession. Under normal circumstances, the tight focus on victimization would soon fade. Since oppression studies explain so little, they soon become boring. But, as a part of a political chorus demanding ever-more extravagant entitlements for key voting groups, an essential part of the identity politics that is so destructive of national unity, the trinity is ensured a long life. Historians can grow tired of an intellectual movement. Politicians of a useful political tool, never.
There is also something else beyond the fanciful and fraudulent political and academic rhetoric of “equal opportunity – affirmative action.” That is jobs. Key voting groups designated as oppressed have been hired preferentially in the academy, most especially in the social sciences, including history. To justify these preferences, historians of gender and race must keep emphasizing oppression. How otherwise can their privileges be justified? Hence, the refiguring history to justify their positions in the professoriate.
We used to hear people laugh derisively when someone mentioned “political correctness”. But what you’re reading here is an example of political correctness run amok.
And it’s effect? Read James Taranto’s piece in the WSJ today. It’s an incredible example of political correctness gone nuts. I’m talking about Emily Yoffe’s answer to an obviously absurdly insensitive question addressed to her. However, her answer, among much of the left, is both appropriate and “correct”. It’s what they believe. It’s what they’ve been taught.
Will it get worse? Well, Gordon seems to think it will:
A remarkable generational change is also coming. Most of the historians in the declining fields, economic, intellectual and diplomatic history, earned their degrees more than 30 years ago. At the same time, more than 50% of the new PhDs are now trained in women and gender history, in cultural history (a watered-down version of social history), in world and African-American history. This is going to make an extraordinary difference in what kind of scholarship will continue to be undertaken, and how the past will be taught. The history profession, seemingly innovative and robust, is in fact intellectually debilitated, and sadly reduced in scope.
If you think it is bad in the history department, you’ve seen what is going on in the science department (
global warming climate change “science”).
Many have been hinting for years that the culture battle – the battle between individualism and freedom v. collectivism and entitlement- is being lost in academia. Gordon manages to put an exclamation point to the claim. One of the reasons our population knows less and less about economic and our intellectual history is because it has been waylaid and replaced with “disciplines” which stress entitlement and victimization.
Is it then a surprise when more and more of the population view themselves and this country through those lenses? And is it then any more surprising when they perceive government – more and more government – as the answer? Again, it’s what they’ve been taught.