Not Saussure

September 12, 2006

The Right Way To Look At It

While musing a few days ago on the curious intellectual alliance between some American neo-conservatives and the present government in Tehran, neither of whom is particularly impressed by what they see as the undesirable intellectual hegemony of secular liberals in their respective countries’ universities, I was vaguely reminded of something I’d read years ago.

My memory was again jogged by reading reports of David Cameron’s latest speech, in which he attempts to distance himself from what he takes to be ‘neo-Conservative thinking’, thus prompting the Indy to ask ‘What is neo-conservatism?‘ (a question that most other papers explored in depth some years ago, but then the Indy works to its own pace).

I recalled reading, some years ago, Imperial Caddy, by Joe Queenan, a very funny take on Dan Quayle, President Bush the Elder’s intellectually-challenged Vice President. The book’s now understandably out of print but still available at Amazon. It’s relevant, though because, with hindsight, Mr Quayle looks eirily like a trial run for the present incumbent.

Many of the neo-conservative advisors and speechwriters who are now, or were until their star began to fade because the debacle in Iraq, very close to President Bush the Younger, were, as Queenan puts it, originally hired by Mr Quayle ‘to make him seem far more intelligent than he actually was’.

This, by the way, was apparently not without its problems:

Attempts to enhance Quayle’s image by force-feeding him biographies of Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle, and encouraging him to discuss Plato’s Republic and Machiavelli’s The Prince with influential journalists blew up in [William] Kristol‘s face; once a cerebrally retrograde Hoosier starts telling reporters he’s been reading Plato and Machiavelli, those heartless sons of bitches will immediately start setting traps for him, so that they can show their wiseass, know-it-all readers that Dumbo really read only the Cliff Notes version.

Anyway, looking through Mr Queenan’s book to see what he had to say about the neo-conservatives then, rather than now, I came across what I’d been reminded of. Then, as now, they were very concerned about ‘leftist professors who have been indoctrinating our children with their dangerous Marxist ideas’. Queenan suggests they’ve got this wrong, and that, on the contrary, ‘by having leftist academics on college campuses, the rest of us have them right where we want them.

He explains,

Look at is this way: If leftist intellectuals were working at Burger King or the utility company, they might organize downtrodden laborers and bring a hungry, poorly lit nation to its knees. But by cloistering them together in universities, leftists limit the subversive impact of their seditiious ideas to young people between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one, many of whom do not have driver’s licences. We should accept it as a normal and healthy part of growning up for teenagers to flirst with the ideas of Karl Marx and Mao Tse-tung, knowing full well that these ideas will be banished from their consciousness forever the first time they get their quarterly earnings report from Fidelity Select Biotechnology and find out that their OTC stocks have skyrocketed 46 percent in the previous three months.

[…] The way [American] society works is this: Leftist intellectuals with hare-brained Marxist ideas get to control Stanford, MIT, Yale, and the American Studies department at the University of Vermont. In return, the right gets IBM, DEC, Honeywell, Disney World, and the New York Stock Exchange. Leftist academics get to try out out their stupid ideas on impressionable youths between seventeen and twenty-one who don’t have any money or power. The right gets to try out its ideas on North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and parts of Africa, most of which take MasterCard. The left gets Harvard, Oberlin, Twyla Tharp’s dance company, and Madison, Wisconsin. The right gets NASDAQ, General Motors, Apple, McDonnell Douglas, Washington DC, Citicorp, Texas, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Japan, and outer space.

This seems like a fair arrangement.

September 6, 2006

American Right finds friends in high places — in Iran

Filed under: Academic Freedom, Education, Iran, Politics, Uncategorized, usa, Wingnuts — notsaussure @ 9:25 pm

British readers may not be aware as they might of the American neo-Conservative FrontPage’s David Horowitz, one of those former Communists who experienced a Damascene conversion to neo-Conservatism without ever actually going through a reasonable or moderate phase on this intellectual journey; my favourite Amazon reviewer summed it up, I think, in his review of Mr Horowitz’s Left Illusions: An Intellectual Odyssey:

I have not actually read this book but the author is a former communist who suddenly changed into a conservative. I think if the McCarthy hearings taught us anything, they taught us that you can’t trust former communists even if they were communists a long time ago.

— and, with the example of Dr Reid before us, who can disagree?

Anyway, Mr Horowitz is very concerned about what he takes to be the liberal, secularist and leftist influence on American campuses and has formed a body, Students for Academic Freedom, to combat such sinister forces. As Mr Horowitz explains,

It should not be a fight for young students to get a complete education, to learn more than half the story. It shouldn’t be a battle for conservatives or Christians to gain teaching positions, to have their work seriously considered, and to be tenured.

And, as the Students for Academic Freedom fundraising page puts it,

We are challenging the political harassment of conservative and religious students in the classroom, and the general abuse of the university for political agendas including professorial “teach-ins” that provide one-sided lessons about war and peace. We are demanding that diverse texts be included in the curriculum and that speakers programs include conservatives as well as leftists and liberals.

To this end, they’re doing all sorts of valuable research, such as studying and publicising the registered political affiliations of university teaching staff, which seems to suggest that, at least in some departments, an Affirmative Action Programme, while apparently a bad idea in most cases, is probably urgently needed for underachieving American Republicans in academia.

Anyway, Mr Horowitz will doubtless be gratified to learn that his ideas have been taken up by no lesser person than Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“A student must yell against liberal thoughts and the liberal economy,” the AFP news agency reported Mr Ahmadinejad as saying.

“A student must ask why a secular teacher gives low marks to a student that does not have the same ideas as him.”

I don’t think Mr Horowitz has yet told his Students for Academic Freedom ‘that they should organise campaigns to demand that the liberal teachers be sacked’; they confine themselves to collecting complaints — a handy complaints form is provided for download on their website for his purpose:

Nature of Complaint:

a. Required readings or texts covering only one side of issues

b. Gratuitously singled out political or religious beliefs for ridicule

c. Introduced controversial material that has no relation to the subject

d. Forced students to express a certain point of view in assignments

e. Mocked national political or religious figures

f. Conducted political activities in class (ex: recruiting for demonstrations)

g. Allowed students’ political or religious beliefs to influence grading

h. Used university funds to hold one-sided partisan teach-ins or conferences

i. Other

 

along with detailed instructions on how what to do with them next:

14. Go to the President of the University (always go to the highest level possible) with a list of documented abuses. Demand a redress of grievances, including an apology from the offending authority and the promulgation of a policy to correct the abuse. Demand that the university administration adopt “The Academic Bill of Rights” as an official university code.

15. If the University is unwilling to take corrective measures, notify the press, the public, alumni and other Students for Academic Freedom clubs through www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org.

16. If your academic institution is private, locate the chairman of the trustees’ “Development Committee,” which raises funds for the university, and appeal for help. If it is a public institution, make friends with your elected representatives on the Education Committees of your state Senate or Assembly. Seek help from them in addressing these problems. The maximum pressure point for all academic institutions is the flow of alumni and government funds that support the institution. Focus your activities on these vulnerable points of the university system. Continue the pressure until the authorities adopt and enforce “The Academic Bill of Rights.” Keep in mind that unless rights are enforced they are meaningless.

Since a campaign for academic freedom should know no national boundaries, I think it would be very valuable for Mr Horowitz and his students to organise some form of international conference with their colleagues in Tehran. I’m sure the results will be most instructive and useful for both groups in achieving their common goals.

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