Entry from July 3, 2008

My colleague and friend, Roger Kimball, elsewhere picks up on a line in an article by Patricia Cohen in today’s New York Times about changes in the political allegiances among younger faculty in American universities: “In general, information on professors’ political and ideological leanings tends to be scarce,” she writes — of what is presumably one of those mysteries that seems hilariously impenetrable to the earnest lefties of the Times, like their periodic head-scratching as to how it can be possible that crime rates are going down at the very same time when more and more people are going to prison. Go figure. But Roger is too modest to have mentioned an even more striking thing about the article, which is that the Times also doesn’t see the strangeness of leaving out the name of the author of Tenured Radicals when discussing this subject.

I suspect that Patricia Cohen is herself a person of youth and therefore, perhaps, forgivably ignorant about what she rather patronizingly calls, in Barack Obama’s words, “the psychodrama of the Baby Boom generation” which loomed so large in the now fast-fading era of Bill and Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Al Gore and John Kerry. With our new and improved Obama-era politics, nous avons changé tout cela. Perhaps, too, Ms Cohen has been fooled by her own euphemism of “liberals” to describe those who have consistently associated themselves with the most illiberal forces in our society for forty years. If so it wouldn’t be the first time that that had happened at the Times!

There’s another line from the article that I want to mention, however, and that comes in the words of one Erik Olin Wright, described as “a 61-year-old sociologist and a Marxist theorist.” Asked about the political focus of his university younger colleagues, he told Ms Cohen that “there has been some shift away from grand frameworks to more focused empirical questions . . . In the late ’60s and ’70s, the Marxist impulse was central for those interested in social justice.” Then, in her own words, she adds: “Now it resides at the margins.” It would be interesting to know if Professor Wright said something like this which she is paraphrasing, or if this is her own conclusion. One of the other of them, if not both, fails to understand how Marxist assumptions have made themselves central to American scholarship even where Marxism itself may have retreated to the margins.

For what is the fundamental premise of post-colonial studies, women’s studies, black studies, queer studies and all the traditional disciplines, such as English, comparative literature, anthropology, sociology and history, which these bogus ones have infected but the Marxist-Leninist “oppression” narrative, founded on the belief that the world is divided into the exploiters and the exploited? This set of assumptions about the world may not call itself “Marxist” anymore, but it has learned from Marx the con-trick of making the world as it is seem contingent and replaceable by inventing a word for it — “capitalism” in Marx’s case, “patriarchy”, “imperialism” etc. in that of the neo-Marxians — and thus implying that the world as it isn’t, never has been and never could be, the world they used to call, jestingly, Utopia (no place), is a reasonable alternative to it.

Except that the neo-Marxists don’t even bother to offer their vision of the socialist paradise that will supposedly one day, with the help of the inevitable forces of history, replace the world as we know it. They’re having much too good a time being oppressed and permanently resentful about it to want to install that imaginary replacement world as anything but a negativity: what their oppressors are always denying them.

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