IN MY first conversation with an academic from my university, I asked ‘So, what do you focus on?’ She replied ‘Power’. The culture war was born in the universities. The Academy in the tradition of Plato and Aristotle was a place of vigorous learning and firm contention with ideas that shape the world. Since then, we have taken a different path, one that is more bureaucratic than intellectual, more indoctrination than learning and more ‘kind’ than critical. In short, we have lost the ancient tradition of the universities and for what? Simply ‘power’. That one word says it all.
The pernicious doctrine of postmodernism is a vehicle for nihilism. It is at the heart of the current state of Western universities. We imported the so-called ‘intellectual’ grounding for this doctrine from the French via the United States. It is a narrative without any generosity for the individual, seeing them as simply another means of upholding a male-dominated power structure. Brought forth by Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault (who is worshipped by the radicals in the Humanities) emphasised the Marxist elements within postmodernism. This ideological doctrine is so popular because it makes the ill-educated feel academic, given that they can operate by their own rules. People are a mere expression of either oppressed or oppressor. Here the seeds of cancel culture were spawned. So once neighbour has turned against neighbour and the individual becomes a cog in the machine, what’s next?
Key to all this is the realisation that much of what we experience in the universities today is a corrupted form of literary criticism, spawned from English departments as language became the route through which control would be sought. This is the reasoning for insistence on expression of gender pronouns in student unions, in most cases as a matter of policy.
Relatively new areas of study in the US, such as women’s studies and race studies, emerged from nowhere exactly because they can make up their own rules and language to fit. We are even at the point where the pseudo-intellectual phrase ‘standpoint epistemology’ is used to justify expressing anecdotal experiences as fact. Anecdotes are favoured for, as Colman Hughes put it, woke thrives off the idea that having some arbitrary characteristic gives you a ‘heightened moral knowledge’. In this way, those who have no capacity to think maintain their positions at the universities and the same cycle persists.
My lecturers love ‘critical theory’. On the surface, this approach to studying a subject might sound productive. Ultimately, academia would never progress were it not for people challenging the established narratives, when a more rigorous, factual, sound argument should stand in its place. Alas, critical theory has nothing to do with this. It has a simple aim: not simply challenging an existing orthodoxy, but attacking the very structures that maintain it. So, for instance, we will be talking about war in my module on US foreign policy. About 45 minutes in, when the facts have been laid out and stretched thin, critical theory acts as the lecturer’s God-given elastic – suddenly, we must heed the beliefs of gender studies departments, that if a woman was in charge there would be less war because men are inherently violent. Meanwhile, we can’t acknowledge any of the differences between men and women because biology is a thing of the past. Additionally, I have noticed an attitude in seminars (group discussion based on lectures and readings) that opinions valued by professors come not out of intellectual rigour but rather from those who hold an ‘oppressed’ position in society. Moreover, the academics dare not challenge the view for fear of offence, that cardinal sin of the modern era. In this way, universities play with culture and politics more than discoverable facts, which is the ancient tradition of the academy.
In reality, it is very clear what critical theory entails and why it is being used. It forces particular narratives that are in line with the reductionism of the left. Consider, if you will, who benefits from conducting academia in this fashion? Lecturers and professors on university campuses are corporate types. In the words of Camille Paglia, they act ‘high and mighty’, relishing the bureaucracy that comes with working in a university setting. Having built their own sheltered environment in which they can feel safe, modern academics utilise these power-seeking narratives, only to see the outer world crumble. What’s more is that the typically white, middle-class students into whom these ideas are being injected become exponents of these same narratives and thus the cycle continues. Unbeknown to them, this self-fulfilling and utterly destructive model of academia will only end up hurting them more.
I was in a meeting with some academics from my department when a senior academic started to lament that student loans were not high enough. As if we are living in a Kafkaesque comedy, the same individual was equally vocal in his support of the Green Party, who have a policy to scrap university tuition fees. This highlights the sheer dishonesty and self-aggrandising nature of those at the very heart of the culture war. Importantly, these are people who would argue that the culture war is driven by right-wing aggression as opposed to the intellectual and cultural backsliding of the regressive woke left.
These are institutions responsible for the present perilous state of society. They do not represent those they claim to value most. They value themselves and will continue to seek that one golden nugget to which they all cling: Power.