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Right wing academics and the paranoid style


The title of this post is also that of a many-thousand-word essay, unwritten at this point, examining the wildly distorted pictures of American higher education often put forth by right-wing critics of the academy, many of them from inside the whale itself.

Here is a tiny taste of that phenomenon, from old friend of the blog Glenn Reynolds. Reynolds is opining on the controversy surrounding an op-ed written by a couple of other law professors, celebrating the supposed role that what they call bourgeois virtues played in maintaining the healthier cultural situation that reigned in the USA during the 1950s and early 1960s:

[The op-ed] broke two major taboos in the academy: It showed respect for, rather than deriding, the traditional middle class, and it denied the major tenet of academic multiculturalism, which is that all cultures are equal. But on both of these, the academy is full of hypocrisy. Nobody really thinks that all cultures are equal. If they are, why tear down those Confederate statues?

And deriding the bourgeoisie is de rigeur [sic] in the academy, as Deirdre McCloskey notes in her book, The Bourgeois Virtues. Partly that’s because the gentry liberals of the academy, who together with the press and most of the political class, which McCloskey refers to as today’s clerisy, see themselves as smarter and more moral than ordinary Americans. (Part of it too, I suspect, is a subconscious desire to get revenge for being unpopular in high school, as the clerisy seems oversupplied with student-government and student newspaper types.)

There’s a lot of nonsense to unpack in even just these two paragraphs, and I don’t have the time or patience for it now (you’ll have to wait for the essay referenced above, soon to be available at better blogs everywhere).

But I do want to flag here the faux populist egalitarianism of the sneer that the “gentry liberals of the academy . . . see themselves as smarter” than ordinary Americans.

Academics see themselves as smarter than ordinary Americans because they are smarter than ordinary Americans. Yes, there are multiple types of intelligence, some people who are analytically brilliant are emotional morons etc etc. But this sort of bad faith anti-intellectualism is the kind of thing that helped get an aggressively ignorant imbecile like Trump elected president, among other bad effects.

LeBron James, or for that matter any Division III college basketball player, doesn’t have to pretend to believe that he’s no better at basketball than ordinary Americans. It would be nice if the same privilege could be extended to brain toilers, both inside and outside the academy.

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