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In the Heart of Freedom, In Chains
By Ed Driscoll · July 22, 2007 04:29 PM · Bobos In Paradise · God And Man At Dupont University · The Future and its Enemies

I hope to have my own review of James Pierson's Camelot and the Cultural Revoltion online in the next week or so. In the meantime, Fred Siegel has a great write-up of the book's central thesis in Opinion Journal, and concludes:

Mr. Piereson's own argument is persuasive and well-presented, but liberalism was never as reasonable as he assumes. The irrationalism that exploded later in the 1960s had been a component of left-wing ideology well before. Herbert Croly, the liberal founder of the New Republic magazine, was drawn to mysticism. In the 1950s ex-Marxists fell over themselves in praise of Wilhelm Reich and "orgone box," hoping that sexual therapy might replace Marxist theory as the toga of the enlightened. And in the very early 1960s a veritable cult of Castro, informed by Franz Fanon's writings on the cleansing virtues of violence, emerged among intellectuals searching for an alternative to middle-class conventions.

It's not reason that is at the heart of modern-day liberalism but rather the claim to superior virtue and, even more important, to a special knowledge unavailable to the unwashed or unenlightened. Depending on the temper of the time, such virtue and knowledge can derive disproportionately from scientism or mysticism--or it can mix large dollops of both.

In the latest issue of City Journal, Myron Magnet extends those concepts from the mid-1960s to the present, with an emphasis on today's liberals' reaction to the Duke non-rape case, which Newsweek's Evan Thomas recently unwittingly crystalized down to a single sentence: "The narrative was right, but the facts were wrong".

Magnet explains how such a mindset can occur amongst seemingly sophisticated elites:

Part of what a university should teach is the critical reasoning power to analyze situations like these, with claims and counterclaims, and determine what actually happened. But the last few decades’ transformation of the academic worldview unfitted Duke administrators and faculty from making such a judgment. Like the scientists Swift’s Gulliver met in the kingdom of Laputa, they have one eye that looks inward at themselves and one eye that peers outward toward the farthest heavens, leaving no organ to perceive the reality right in front of their noses—the reality that, as George Orwell says, takes a constant struggle to see through the fog of orthodoxy.

Even for the clear-sighted, that reality takes an effort to discern, because we see the world not in an unmediated way but through the prism of our culture (and even of our class or subgroup), which can both clarify and distort. In the act of observing, we also interpret and judge, according to the terms of our culture’s values, morals, and manners. Our power of reason has limits, so that we have to depend on aid from education, tradition, belief, on what Edmund Burke called “prejudice”—again, all products of culture, built up from the inherited wisdom and experience and sometimes superstition of mankind.

Critical reason’s task is to peer through the cultural web in which we are enmeshed to perceive clearly the reality that actually exists, including the man-made reality of the social order, whose terms give our lives meaning. We have to question our culturally created assumptions to clear away attitudinizing or propaganda or superstitious prejudice. But the professors sidestep this challenge, simplifying and flattening these complex truths about culture and consciousness. They reach the false conclusion that all descriptions of society and our nature are not just colored or refracted by our cultural assumptions but are mere propaganda, aimed at convincing others that the world is as our class or subgroup wishes it to be. Moreover, since the profs believe that not just the social order but also what we take to be “human nature” is man-made, whoever wins the propaganda battle gets to mold society and human nature—human reality itself—into the shape he chooses.

From these assumptions flows academe’s well-known mania for unmasking Western civilization (including its literature and art) as a machine for oppressing the nonwhite, non-rich, and non-male. This worldview—which grants its adherents a sense of superiority over their supposedly racist and sexist fellow men and also a belief in their own special power to remake the world by their words—appears so self-evident on campus as to be impervious to such realities as accelerating black success, for example, or the crowding out of male students by female ones on college campuses themselves.

Needless to say, don't miss either man's essay.

Related: "The Kennedy Mythtique….and college snobbery…"



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