Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Thomas Sowell's most recent column will come as quite a shock even to many who are, like myself, well aware of the pervasiveness of leftism in academia. He discusses the fact that, although the '60's ended nearly 40 years ago, the basic, oft-romanticized, approach of backing demands with threats is alive and well.
It is so alive and so well, in fact, that The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran an article on the subject, inspiring Sowell to weigh in. (Sowell does not specifically name the article, but I suspect that it was "Fearing Our Students". [subscription required])
This professor has been advised, at more than one college, not to let students know where he lives, not to give out his home phone number and to keep his home phone number from being listed.And later,
This is a very different academic world from the one in which I began teaching back in 1962. Over the years, I saw it change before my eyes.
During my first year of teaching, at Douglass College in New Jersey, I was one of the few faculty members who did not invite students to his home. In fact, I was asked by a colleague why I didn't.
"My home is a bachelor apartment" I said, "and that is not the place to invite the young women I am teaching."
His response was: "How did you get to be such an old fogy at such a young age?"
How did we get from there to where professors are being advised to not even have their phone numbers listed?
The answer to that question has implications not only for the academic world but for the society at large and for international relations.
It happened because people who ran colleges and universities were too squeamish to use the power they had.... [bold added]
One of the rare exceptions to academic cave-ins around the country during the 1960s was the University of Chicago. When students there seized an administration building, dozens of them were suspended or expelled. That put an end to that.But instead of punishing bad behavior, most institutions have rewarded it and thereby encouraged it.
There is not the slightest reason why academic institutions with far more applicants than they can accept have to put up with disruptions, violence or intimidation. Every student they expel can be replaced immediately by someone on the waiting list.
It is true that appeasement encourages more bad behavior, but as Sowell points out, things weren't always this way. Why are they different now? On what basis did appeasement become so common in Western civilization that it has crashed the gates even of the ivory tower? It is because the philosophic basis of the Enlightenment has been attacked, with the result that those who should be defending our civilization are intellectually and morally disarmed or even fail to see a need to defend it.
Ayn Rand considered this very question long ago in "The Cashing-in: The Student 'Rebellion'", an essay she wrote in 1965, and which now appears in The Return of the Primitive. Rand concludes that the repleacement of reasoned debate with brute force in academia is the end result of the long playing-out of Immanuel Kant's philosophic attack on the validity of reason.
These "activists" are so fully, literally, loyally, devastatingly the products of modern philosophy that someone should cry out to all the university administrations and faculties: "Brothers, you asked for it!"Rand discusses such schools as Pragmatism, Logical Positivism, and Linguistic Analysis, and continues.
Mankind could not expect to remain unscathed after decades of exposure to the radiation of intellectual fission-debris, such as: "Reason is impotent to know things as they are -- reality is unknowable -- certainty is impossible -- knowledge is mere probability -- truth is that which works -- mind is a superstition -- logic is a social convention -- ethics is a matter subjective commitment to an arbitrary postulate" -- and the consequent mutations are those contorted young creatures who scream, in chronic terror, that they know nothing and want to rule everything.
With rare and academically neglected exceptions, the philosophical "mainstream" that seeps into every classroom, subject, and brain in today's universities is: epistemological agnosticism, avowed irrationalism, ethical subjectivism. Our age is witnessing the ultimate climax, the cashing-in on a long process of destruction, at the end of the road laid out by Kant.
Ever since Kant divorced reason from reality, his intellectual descendants have been diligently widening the breach. ... [bold added]
It has been said that Kant's dichotomy led to two lines of Kantian philosophers, both accepting his basic premises, but choosing opposite sides: those who chose reason, abandoning reality -- and those who chose reality, abandoning reason. The first delivered the world to the second. [bold added]Sowell is correct as far as he goes, but for college administrators and faculty to stop sympathizing with the students (a problem Sowell himself notes) or appeasing them, a real philosophic revolution is required, the one Ayn Rand herself has started with her defense of the validity of reason, her highly original approach to ethics (resulting in a morality of egoism), and culminating her moral and intellectual defense of individual rights.
Those who value the free discussion of ideas and the unstinting pursuit of truth that ought to occur in academia (and have, and can, once again), would do well to start understanding this problem by considering her thoughts on the subject, which remain relevant to this day, and to think about what she has had to say about the various issues leading to our current state.
Only then will one know what a real revolution looks like.
Today: Corrected several typos. Other minor changes.