The Demon in Middlebury by ​Ryszard Legutko | Articles | First Things

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The invitation from Middlebury College to speak about my book The Demon in Democracy came last year. I was pleased to receive it…

Source: The Demon in Middlebury by ​Ryszard Legutko | Articles | First Things

This just isn’t funny anymore, if it ever was.

I used to like Middlebury College; heck, I used to want to go there, or teach there, or both. I like Vermont. I like the town of Middlebury. I especially like the “secret” recipe for a maple syrup vinaigrette that I got from someone there, during my brief stint teaching outdoor education nearby! But I do not like what Middlebury College has become.

This is from Ryszard Legutko, author of the book The Demon in Democracy, which I referenced in a previous post, but have not yet had the chance to read. Now I want to, all the more! Because there is a demon lurking at the heart of liberal democracy, one whose existence is unsuspected by many, studiously ignored by others, and actively fed and worshiped by some. And I am not sure that I am using that term entirely metaphorically!

At any rate, Legutko comments, inter alia, on the socialist-fascist-cultural Marxist mess our academic world has become; and he does so using Middlebury as his personal example, since the college soviet unloaded on him, there. I will let you read his account of the incident in question! But he follows that account with this analysis:

“By comparing the clichés with the realities they supposedly describe, we find that the aim of this language is to reverse the meanings of words. ‘Marginalized people’ are not people who are marginalized, but people who set the college’s agenda and can get away with just about anything, including physically assaulting their professors. ‘Respectful and non-disruptive counter-space’ means subjecting a lecturer to insults and humiliations. ‘Inclusivity’ is the systemic censuring of people and ideas. I don’t know what ‘healing’ is supposed to mean, but I suspect it might refer to the joy a hooligan feels in his acts of vandalism.”

This is precisely the sort of warping of language Orwell tried to warn us about! Newspeak, the memory hole, some animals are more equal than others… but I digress:

“Am I exaggerating? Am I unjust to the students and their faculty mentors, people who may be misguided but are sincere in their desire for a better world? Let us see what their better world would look like. Here is one of the demands that the SGA (Student Government Association) at Middlebury made after the incident:

Any organization or academic department that invites a speaker to campus will be required to fill out a due diligence form created by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in coordination with the SGA Institutional Diversity Committee. These questions should be created to determine whether a speaker’s beliefs align with Middlebury’s community standards [emphasis added by The Anglophilic Anglican], removing the burden of researching speakers from the student body.

“I learned from this statement that Middlebury has two offices (at least) to monitor diversity, equity, and inclusion at the college. Student activists seem to find it an undue burden to have to do the work of policing invited speakers. They insist that the institution do their bidding. And Middlebury is not an anomaly. Similar bodies are everywhere, at every college, university, and corporation in the U.S. and many European countries, all of them surveilling the words and actions of their members and implementing ideological directives with bureaucratic ruthlessness.”

So, only speakers whose “beliefs align with Middlebury’s community standards” (thank you, Facebook, or as some now call it, Fascistbook) will be allowed on campus? Or if others somehow manage to be permitted, they can expect to experience protest, heckling, or worse? All in the guise of diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Alles klar, Herr Kommisar?

How is this not Communist? Marxist? Fascist? Totalitarian? Did we live through the 20th century, defeating both the Nazis in the Second World War and the Soviets in the Cold War, in vain? Did my father fight and earn the Bronze Star and Purple Heart in the first, and defend our country via signals intelligence in the second, in vain? I begin to fear so, to my deep dismay!

Bear in mind, Legutko is a person who grew up in Communist Poland, having been born there in 1949. He is Professor of philosophy at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, specializing in ancient philosophy and political theory, and a Member of the European Parliament. He knows whereof he speaks, when it comes to totalitarianism and dictatorship: historically, philosophically, and personally. He continues,

“The growing power of these offices would not be possible without the corruption of language. Diversity, equity, and inclusion have ceased to mean what they always meant and now mean the opposite. They now mean rigidity, dogmatism, conformity, intimidation, control, arbitrariness, and censorship. The offices of diversity, equity, and inclusion are in fact guardians of the regnant ­ideology — ‘Middlebury’s community standards’ — and their job is to censure all ‘beliefs’ that do not ‘align; with those standards. In ­Orwell’s world, war was peace, freedom slavery, and ignorance strength. At Middlebury, diversity is monopoly, equity bias, and inclusion censorship.”

So now we have student soviets, sitting in judgement on both their professors (most of whom are cultural Marxists themselves, anyway, and most of the few who aren’t, are – understandably, it must be confessed – interested in protecting their jobs, their incomes, and their families’ futures), and on anyone who might be invited to speak to them?

What can we call these, other than academic soviets? How did we allow colleges and universities to become neo-bolshevik? What happened to academic freedom, to freedom of inquiry? What happened to a challenging intellectual environment (for anyone other than conservatives and traditionalists, who are to be actively ghettoed)?

I knew the situation was bad, and getting worse. I knew it was already heading in that direction when I was last directly involved with the academic world, in the mid-1990s; and I knew it had only tanked still further since. But I have to admit, even I did not know it was this bad. Heaven help us.

The only bright spot is Legutko’s concluding paragraph. I am tempted to reproduce it here, but I shall refrain: better you should read the whole article!

 

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US declining interest in history presents risk to democracy | Financial Times

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Alas, America’s curiosity about itself is suffering a prolonged bear market. What may work for individual careers poses a collective risk to US democracy.

Source: US declining interest in history presents risk to democracy | Financial Times

More on the plummeting U.S. interest in history, and its consequences. Unfortunately, the author, Edward Luce, has to get in a dig at President Trump! But he makes a number of good points, nonetheless.

Indeed, the idea that a de-emphasis on history (and other humanities) in favor of more technical fields “works for individual careers” may itself be a flawed assumption: the author himself notes that

“the biggest culprit is the widespread belief that ‘soft skills’ — such as philosophy and English, which are both in similar decline to history — do not lead to well-paid jobs. But the data do not bear this out. Engineers do better than those who study humanities. But the latter are paid roughly the same as those who graduate in the booming fields of biology and business services.”

But there is a greater cost to society generated by the near-demise of the humanities than simply missed employment opportunities. Luce goes on to comment,

“The demise of strong civics coincides with waning voter turnout, a decline in joining associations, fewer citizen’s initiatives, and other qualities once associated with American vigour. The spread of fake news is often blamed solely on social media… But the ultimate driver is the citizens who believe it.

“There is no scientific metric for gullibility. Nor can we quantitatively prove that civic ignorance imposes a political cost on society. These are questions of judgment. But if America’s origins tell us anything it is that a well-informed citizenry creates a stronger society.”

Indeed! And the reverse, sadly, is also true.

 

Sir Roger Scruton: on being an intellectual conservative | YouTube (with reflections by me, on politics, economics, and society)

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Source: Sir Roger Scruton: How to Be a Conservative | YouTube

“It is not unusual to be a conservative. But it is unusual to be an intellectual conservative. In both Britain and America some 70% of academics identify themselves as being ‘on the Left,’ while the surrounding culture is increasingly hostile to traditional values, or to any claim that might be made for the high achievements of Western Civilization.”

— Sir Roger Scruton

And like it or not, the academic world does have a major impact – directly, through the pronouncements of academics, and even more significant, indirectly, through its graduates (who end up in business, media, and politics) – on the wider culture.

The “Benedict Option” (or what Sir Roger here calls “catacomb culture”) is valid and likely essential as a short-term strategy for survival of traditional values, ideas, and ideals (and perhaps, for traditional people who wish to bear and raise children in those values, ideas, and ideals), but it is not an end in itself.

Remember that the monks of medieval Europe did not merely remain in their monasteries, but in some cases actively evangelized (think the Celtic monks, Franciscan friars, and the preaching orders), or in the case of the Benedictines themselves, served as “leaven in the loaf” of the wider culture.

It’s not enough merely to “opt out” of secular culture – although, as I say, that can be an important first step, and survival strategy, just as the monks made the decision to leave their secular lives and enter the monastery. We have to keep the longer-term goal in mind: taking it back. Continue reading “Sir Roger Scruton: on being an intellectual conservative | YouTube (with reflections by me, on politics, economics, and society)”

Freedom of speech is not “systemic violence” – a fact that used to be self-evident

I apologize for not having posted much lately. It’s been a long week – or more – at work. In any case:

It is most refreshing to see an intelligent commentator calling out a Leftist “professor” (the quotes are because what she “professes” is, as Michael Knowles points out, quite distressing for a professor in a taxpayer-funded institution of higher learning) on the absurdity of equating speech – the free exchange of ideas – with violence.

Well said, sir!

 

How I was Kicked Out of the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting | Quillette

“I am a Classics Ph.D. who recently attended the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society for Classical Studies (SCS—formerly the American Philological Association), a yearly conference that provides papers on classical subjects and interviews for academic positions. I now regret doing so since some remarks I made at the conference led to me being branded a ‘racist’ and the loss of my editing job with the Association of Ancient Historians.”

Source: How I was Kicked Out of the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting | Quillette

This essay is not easy reading. In fact, I found it both depressing and disillusioning (not that I had many illusions, to start with) and deeply angering. It is a classic example of the cultural Marxism prevalent in the academic world, and one of the reasons I did not choose to go on and obtain a PhD in Medieval History, as had been my original intention, since I saw the same trends developing in medieval studies, all the way back in the mid-’90s.

In this essay, Mary Frances Williams – note, this is a woman, not one of those dastardly males! – who describes herself as an independent scholar living in California, having received her doctorate from the University of Texas, Austin, recounts the way in which she was harassed, bullied, mischaracterized, and denied the right to have her voice heard in defense of Classics as a discipline… at a Classics conference (!), and purportedly, one devoted to the future of classics. Dr. Williams notes that

“Of all the academic disciplines, Classics alone has managed until now to withstand most of the corrupting influences of modern critical theory and ‘social justice’ activism. Ours is the last bastion of Western Civilization in the academy.”

Or at least, has been. Continue reading “How I was Kicked Out of the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting | Quillette”

College Illiteracy is Growing | Intellectual Takeout

College Illiteracy is Growing

For a number of years, it was assumed that public education was swimming along, efficiently educating children of all ages. More recently, the products coming out of public schools have caused a troubling concern to leap into the minds of adults: are schools dumbing down the content they teach to students?

Source: College Illiteracy is Growing | Intellectual Takeout

I have been observing this trend for years, now, from both inside and outside public schools and academia. The author, Annie Holmquist, writes,

“One could cast blame in many directions to attempt to explain why students are not intellectually prepared for college. But is it possible that the main reason stems from the fact that schools are simply not set up to train students to think for themselves?”

A good question. And one to which I suspect I know the answer…

I would also add, society is teaching students that they ought to be able to get anything they want without much effort, intellectual or otherwise!

Mike Rowe: Lending money to kids who can’t pay it back to educate them for jobs that don’t exist anymore is a bad idea.

I think Mike Rowe is quite on-target with this. As a friend of mine put it, when she posted this on Facebook earlier today,

“I don’t regret college, I believe it was the right choice for me, but I do regret not being more thoughtful about the degree I chose. I love history but if I had it to do over again, I would double major in something a little more employable.

“Let’s stop telling kids if they get a college degree they won’t have a problem getting a job. We have too many college graduates with the equivalent of a mortgage at the age of 22 who are under- and unemployed for that to be true. Seek all options and find what works for you.”

Indeed. I have said for years that we as a society make a mistake when we try to sell “college for all.” For any reason, but particularly as a ticket out of poverty!

First and foremost, not everyone has the intellectual gifts and temperament for college. Actually getting them through it – which we must, if we are claiming that anyone can go to college, and everyone should – means that a) academic standards are being “dumbed down,” and b) colleges themselves are refashioning themselves into glorified vocational institutes, which is unfair both to them, and to genuine vocational institutes, which have for a long time gotten a great deal less credit and support than they deserve.

On a related note, it fosters the greed and expansionism (both part of fallen human nature) to which colleges and universities – no less than any other large human institutions – are prey, leading them to seek to recruit more and more students (whether they are what was once called “college material” or not), thus exacerbating the problems.

Speaking of problems, when more and more students are (by hook or by crook) graduating, diploma in hand, we have a growing issue of degree inflation: in which an Associate’s, or even a Bachelor’s, degree is needed to perform jobs which once could be filled by a qualified high school graduate, a Masters to fill what were formerly Baccalaureate positions, and a Doctorate to fill what used to be Masters-level positions.

Which of course means that now more and more people are trying to go to college or “uni,” because what used to be a helpful bonus is now a necessity! And once again the problem grows…

From the standpoint of economic success, the reason a college or university degree used to be a pathway out of poverty is precisely because it was RARE. It was indicative of a person with an unusually high degree of intellect, drive / determination, or simple sticktoitiveness, either singly or in combination. That is obviously not the case when a degree is simply another ticket to be punched, on one’s way (hopefully, but less certainly all the time) up the ladder.

It was also viewed by those tasked with hiring as a major plus because a college or university graduate could reasonably be considered to be a person who had both a certain broadness of perspective, and who had received training in broadening and fostering his or her critical thinking skills.

With colleges and universities morphing into vocational training schools, the classic liberal arts breadth of perspective is increasingly becoming a thing of the past; while even a brief survey of the level of political – or if there even was such a thing any more, philosophical – discourse in this county by folks who theoretically are the beneficiaries of higher education leads to the inescapable conclusion that critical thinking can no longer be counted upon as one of the fruits of such education.

But the root problem is this: if everyone has a thing, it is no longer special. Would anybody care about having a Porsche, if everybody had a Porsche? Businesses aren’t going to pay someone more for a college degree if everyone has a college degree! So the more people who seek one as a means of getting hired, or paid more, the less likelihood there is that any particular degree-holder is going to be hired, or given a raise.

The most they will do is refuse to consider anyone who does not hold a degree, transforming what – as I mentioned above – used to be a selling point, into a necessity. It is difficult for me to see how this is an improvement in the situation!

On a personal level, I agree with you, Olivia: I am the holder of a B.A. in medieval studies, and a Masters in theology. While I do not (usually) regret either degree, I also have to be honest enough to admit that cool as they are, neither has proven particularly salable! They have not brought me the level of financial stability – forget about “success,” whatever that means – that the salesmen for universal college education would like people to believe.

If I could do it over again, I, too, would have chosen my major(s) with more care, taken a second and more salable major, or at the very least gotten my teaching certificate when I was in college the first time. Or perhaps better yet, learned a trade, to fall back on. Degree inflation was already a “thing” when I graduated in 1991, and the intervening almost 30 years have increased the problem exponentially!

That doesn’t mean that those degrees weren’t worthwhile in other respects: they were, and are. I am very glad, from a personal and philosophical standpoint, that I got the education I did. But as money-makers? Not so much. Thank God I didn’t go on for Ph.D. study, and come out with that level of debt, and not much more chance of finding employment!

If I had dictatorial powers, I would make colleges and universities smaller, not larger; shrink, rather than increase, their enrollment; and return them to what they used to be: places for those who wished to grapple with the larger and deeper existential questions of life – for the pursuit of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. At the same time, I would strengthen opportunities for vocational / technical learning, which is badly needed, and which can be done more efficiently and economically in other contexts than a college or university environment.

Higher education and vocational training are not the same thing, and it’s time we stopped pretending that they are.