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A Teacher’s Engagement with Horowitz’s Indoctrination U, part two

This post will ask questions of chapters three and four of the Horowitz book, and my final post will comment on the last two chapters and epilogue. I also might devote a post to the text of the Academic Bill of Rights itself.

Which Rules? Whose Playing Field?

I’ll admit that I spent a fair bit of chapter three waiting for the punchline. Horowitz had me pretty well convinced in chapter two that debates about intellectual things should avoid ad hominem arguments and should engage the ideas themselves. I agreed with him that the dean of Reed College behaved badly when he

…impugned [Horowitz’s] character and impugned [his] integrity in an attempt to discredit anything [he] had to say. It was simply a bid to eliminate [his] position from the discussion entirely. The cause of vanquishing an ideological adversary was apparently so important to [the] Dean [of Reed] that it overwhelmed every other consideration including that of civility, and even self-interest. (26)

I return briefly to chapter two because it was a good argument, and I wish its lessons had more fully informed his third chapter, “Facing the Opposition.” I will address the beginning of the chapter in a moment, but in the last seven pages or so of the third chapter, Horowitz does not engage the arguments that Joan Wallach Scott advances but attempts to discredit everything she has to say. He seems intent on eliminating her position from the discussion entirely, mostly by impugning her integrity by noting her own political affiliations and her father’s.

Unfortunately, Horowitz never did jump out from behind a corner and say, “Gotcha! I was doing the very thing that I said intellectuals should not do, and you, O credulous reader, went right along with it!” I wouldn’t have minded that; undergrads at least seem to enjoy such trickery in the classroom. But if he was behind the corner, he ultimately decided not to jump out.

I expect such things from pundits’ books; it’s what political punditry in the Internet age is all about. But since this book claims to be defending a certain set of Enlightenment-era ideals, among them the goodness of engaging opposing ideas apart from their proponents’ political affiliations (is not his primary complaint that people do not even consider his arguments because he’s a conservative?), I was somewhat disappointed, and again the chapter left me wondering whether Horowitz considers his own book part of the disinterested conversation he advocates or whether he thinks of himself as a political pundit and therefore exempt from his own expectations. If the latter, then I do have trouble taking his theory seriously, but I tend not to make a strong separation between classroom intellectuals and public intellectuals and happen to think that the same person can be both. (At least I hope so; I rather enjoy teaching my Sunday school class and writing my blog.)

That said, I do happen to think that Scott’s affiliations with the International Communist Party are worth noting. But I also consider Horowitz’s affiliation with various American capitalist organizations worth noting. My point, I suppose, is that Horowitz’s critique of Scott makes sense on its own terms, but its presence directly after he argues for scholarly disinterestedness in matters of political theory seems to favor the theory of professor and profession that I suggested last post, namely that they’re too closely entwined to separate formally, that some other ethic (I would suggest one of philosophic friendship, but I’m an incurable Aristotelian) ought to govern intellectual disputes so that they become neither Reed debates nor ancestry studies. So on one level I agree with Horowitz on the particulars of his third and fourth chapters, but I think his theory is inadequate to deal with them.

To return to the beginning of chapter three, I do want to address another parenthetical remark, not because I have a thing for parenthetical remarks but because those in this book have been telling of certain misconceptions:

When evidence of disparity becomes too substantial to deny, these critics respond that the disparity does not reflect purposeful exclusion and is ultimately unimportant; conservatives exclude themselves from faculties by choosing not to pursue academic careers but to make money instead. (Tenured professors at elite schools like Princeton, it should be noted, make $160,000 a year for eight months’ work and six hours a week in class. This remuneration hardly seems designed to discourage conservatives from seeking academic work.) (35)

The first thing that popped to mind was that Tony Snow resigned as White House press secretary because making more than that was not enough, but I let that thought pass so that I could be a bit more serious. The fact is that most of us who are academics are not tenured professors at Princeton, and those who have ascended to the upper echelons of their fields could make and in fact in many cases have made more than a professor’s salary by leaving for consulting jobs and other occupations. To make the question one of wealth-envy simply does not take into account that teaching does not pay well. Such is not to say that it’s a bad job, but to paraphrase Plato’s Republic, there are different kinds of happiness for different kinds of people. I imagine that Army generals and Navy admirals make a fair bit of cash as well, but I don’t fool myself into thinking that they’ve become what they’ve become for the do-re-mi. Gifted people who want to make money make money; people who live to protect a nation protect a nation; people who need to teach teach.

And to assert that any academic works six hours a week is as absurd as saying that preachers only work two hours a week on Sunday morning. Neither a megachurch pastor nor an Ivy League professor can be anything but a workaholic save by the grace of God. Anyone who’s been either a college teacher or a preacher (I’ve been both) just knows better. But on to chapter four.

The Fallacy of Whether

“An advanced stage of this intellectual corruption is manifest in courses and even entire departments that are devoted to indoctrination in sectarian dogmas” (50). So begins the longest chapter so far, “Indoctrination U.” (I suppose a rock band would call it the self-titled chapter. English teachers might call it eponymous.) Before I get to categorical critique, I do agree with Horowitz that certain programs exist that carry with them certain ideological assumptions. Women’s Studies departments exist because their faculty assume that the language with which people talk about women and the practices with which women have to live are not what they ought to be. And Peace Studies programs assume that modern political systems have been so ready to start wars in part as a result of inadequate attention given to alternative strategies for coexistence. Moreover, both of these programs hold in suspicion nationalistic and global-capitalist structures that seem to have made the twentieth century a series of armed conflicts (with machine guns) that never resulted in justice on a global view.

That much I concede. However, his idea to disband such ideological starting points and replace them with skeptical inquiries did not mention some fairly obvious, ideology-assuming courses of study. But before I go there, I’ll note the ideological programs that Horowitz highlights:

  • On “Modern Marxist Theory,” a course at University of Colorado: “In other words, this is a course in how to be a Marxist. It is not–by its own description–an academic examination that might also consider how Marxism has failed or why it might not provide “insights” into current topics of importance” (50).
  • On Ball State’s Peace Studies program: “‘Peace studies’ is an entire field–among several that could be mentioned–whose agenda is obviously not academic but political. In the case of peace studies, this agenda is antimilitary and anticapitalist” (51).
  • From his testimony to the Kansas House of Representatives, on the topic of Kansas State’s Women’s Studies program: “Thus the [description of the program] takes an explicitly sectarian (and therefore nonacademic) view of issues that are controversial–whether women are in fact “oppressed in the United States, whether there is “gender inequality” in American society, or whether “heterosexism” and “classism” are meaningful let alone valuable categories of analysis” (64-65).
  • From the same testimony, on KSU’s social work program: “The entire Social Work Program at Kansas State is, in fact, an advocacy program for left-wing ‘solutions’ to social problems. A left-wing point of view is a legitimate part fo the political debate within our culture, but it is only one point of view, and constitutes only one side of the argument” (68).

I would deny none of these ideological starting points for these programs. However, at the same university’s public website, one can easily find this description of the business administration program:

Throughout a student’s academic career, the business firm is examined as a vital social, economic, and political institution. To equip the prospective executive and specialist for future professional responsibilities, the college organizes instructional activities around two themes: (1) the businessperson as the manager of operations and decision maker in a particular firm; and (2) the businessperson as one who must analyze and adapt to the larger economic, social, and political environment of which he or she and the firm are integral parts. Both subject matter and instructional techniques focus on decision making and implementation of decisions through critical and creative analysis.

Nowhere does the program indicate that it will call into question whether or not capitalism is a moral way to organize human societies and resources. And in another department, not on KSU’s own website but on an approved link from one of their departments, one can find this:

To defend the United States and protect its interests through aerospace power. [sic]

We are America’s Airmen. We are warriors…we will fight and win wherever our nation needs us. The aerospace realm is our domain, and we are vigilant in our commitment to defend, control and use it in our nation’s interest. We are leaders…we live our core values. We are a Total Force – Active, Guard, Reserve and Civilian – seamless in providing aerospace power.

We do not operate alone. Our efforts are made possible by the great support of many. Our families, our retirees, the employers of our Guardsmen and Reservists, our industry partners and the communities in which we live and work enable us to carry out our mission.

Nowhere in the AFROTC literature does it discuss whether the warrior life is in fact a morally good one or whether modern nations rely excessively on threats and execution of violence or whether “our efforts” are worth undertaking in the first place.

Of course, a reasonable person would object (rightly) that one who is a pacifist would be ill suited for the ROTC program and that one suspicious of capitalism would be ill advised to pursue a business major. Likewise, I would argue, one who believes in military might would be ill advised to pursue a major in Peace Studies and one who distrusts government services should stay away from social work.

My larger point is that Horowitz, at least as of the end of chapter four, has not written any objections to capitalist business departments or militaristic officer training programs, and for good reason. Certain human pursuits stem from certain human convictions; seminaries ought to teach atheism at a remove, art schools should not take too seriously Plato’s injunctions against the visual arts, and medical schools should not instruct their students in those anatomical theories that did not believe in blood circulation, except as museum pieces. Such pursuits simply will not work out for people interested in negating their goodness to begin with.

None of these programs, of course, makes KSU a socialist or a capitalist school; the effect of having both Peace Studies and ROTC, both Social Work and Business, is that the institution as a whole actually trains people to think inside a discipline and then lets them live together and talk about it. Moreover, ever since Harvard invented elective classes and majors, students have been able to choose programs that advance them inside of certain ways of thinking. Such does not negate my Aristotelian preference for friendship; rather, it should allow an ROTC student and a Peace Studies student to talk to each other across disciplinary lines and to offer the best theories that each discipline can offer in the interest of seeking truth. To require Peace Studies and Women’s studies to self-refute is an intellectually viable option, and one could imagine a university that opted for such requirements, but in fairness one should also expect the business and ROTC programs to do the same. To do so would be very Socratic, but I, a pacifist myself, would prefer to keep my own ROTC students (they really dig on some Plato) the way they are. The conversation is simply more interesting that way. I’m all about asking whether, but I don’t think that Horowitz or anyone else wants every professor asking “whether” all the time. To speak only for myself, I’d prefer the whether-asking to go on in the mess halls and the dorm rooms and the coffee shops, real marketplaces of ideas, between trained practitioners in military science and Marxist sociology and neoliberal capitalism and radical feminism. And I see and hear such things happening, at least in my own modern-era Athens.

Once again I’ve proved windy. To sum up, I do find myself agreeing with Horowitz that certain phenomena are real: professors’ political affiliations do matter, and certain programs do have certain ideological assumptions. Where he and I differ is that I think that, given a strong system of administrative appeal for clear cases of abuse and a developed ethic of Aristotelian friendship within a college community, such things are not to be lamented but celebrated as a sign of diversity within the school as a whole. Ultimately I don’t think every classroom has to be self-refuting so long as the administration maintains the wisdom to encourage programs that will refute one another and to rein in situations of real abuse.

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About Nathan Gilmour

Nathan P. Gilmour is a Christian, a husband, a father, and a college English teacher. He tries to do all of that and write something worthwhile on occasion.

Discussion

4 thoughts on “A Teacher’s Engagement with Horowitz’s Indoctrination U, part two

  1. >This touches upon the historic case. The masses swing to the beat of the loudest drum and current vogue is the leftist snare. I was comprehensive in my statement on history because it was not meant to single out any era or particular university.I asked because in most of the historical events I could remember, the universities were the victims and not the vanguard of massive ideological shifts. I was mainly thinking of the powerhouse German universities that became ghost towns when National Socialism chased off all the Marxist and Jewish professors (that is to say, most of them) and left only those who conformed to the popular ideology. It was around that time that Germany stopped being the intellectual center of the world, displaced (predictably) by the Soviet Union and the United States.I just found you blog through several others. And found this topic interesting. Good stuff.I’m glad you find it so and invite you to keep reading. We’ve generated some good material here at CRM, I think, and we ought to do some more.I was into politics for a while, but it becomes such a distraction from my study of God’s word, with all the emotion and attachments that go along with it, that now I remain aloof.This is not at all unlike my own story.

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | November 19, 2007, 11:25 am
  2. >My comment on the imbalance was simply to point out that we as an uneducated society tend to cop into the falacy of authority. Dr. Supremo said, “Thus is reality,” and the commercial populace buys the product. This touches upon the historic case. The masses swing to the beat of the loudest drum and current vogue is the leftist snare. I was comprehensive in my statement on history because it was not meant to single out any era or particular university. It was not that all held to the flat earth theory, or geocentricity, nor was it all who bought in to the libertine ethic, not all universities trumpeted the call to the fascist paradigm and even it was split. But, where any of the prevailing philosophical schools held sway, they inevitably swayed the politcal world their way. If I had to point at a particular issue today, it would be global warming. This is both a politco/philosophical issue and a scientific one. It will not matter however how science fares. What will matter is whether or not the philosophical view point that holds majority sway remains in power.I just found you blog through several others. And found this topic interesting. Good stuff. I am not a scholar like yourself, so I have to go upon my scant learning and try to figure the big picture from my bunker. I can see it coming but can’t make out what it is until it is in focus. Myopic confession to be sure, but honest.I was into politics for a while, but it becomes such a distraction from my study of God’s word, with all the emotion and attachments that go along with it, that now I remain aloof. Still, I like to see where this is going, if Godward or no, and how it is affecting the mindset among Evangelicals. I do not draw such black and white distinctions that I would call myself a capitalist proper, or a socialist proper either. I defend private property rights because it is expressed in the Ten Commandments so clearly, but I also understand the need for mutual benefit. That would not make me a libertarian, and certainly not an anarchist. I appreciate the need for certain interventions by the government that would curtail my liberties. At the same time, I pay special scrutiny to the extent to which the government can interfere with righteousness.I’ll certainly check back on your blog from time to time. God bless.

    Posted by Strong Tower | November 18, 2007, 8:40 pm
  3. >First, thank you for your comment, ST. If you’re a regular reader, thank you, and if you’re not yet, thank you in advance for becoming one!I wonder if you have ever read his pamphlet on how to do politics. His point in it is that since the other side is not about to stop using “illicit” means to present their arguements, that the right needs to fight fire with fire. And this might explain why Horowitz engages in ad hominen.Horowitz mentions the pamphlet in this book in a few sections, mostly to claim that it has little to do with his arguments about the university. He says that his opponents have used it as an excuse to take his arguments as more of the same but claims that universities should not operate thus.Because I’m neither a capitalist nor a communist myself, I do find discussions of things that break reality into two fixed “sides” unconvincing. A look at the history of philosophy demonstrates pretty readily that institutions like the church and the university can and ought to survive many periods that define themselves by “sides” if they’re willing to be what they are.Also, after the manner of Socrates, I’m inclined to prefer theories that rise above intellectual vice, not theories that advocate immersing oneself in them for the sake of a temporary material benefit. I realize that many in the digital age of punditry would and do call that naive, but as of the moment, such naivete (if that’s what it is; I don’t think it is) seems to be something that we college teachers are still allowed.There is a great imbalance in major universities. And media credibility is associated with “degrees.” Since the media is itself slanted, they will tend to cull the credentialed authorities that favor their side.If this is the case, then why not just opt out of that illusion? Mine is this. Historically, those who have held sway in the universties have determined the course of history. And the current majority does not bode well for mankind.Which parts of history and which universities do you have in mind?

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | November 18, 2007, 12:34 pm
  4. >I have not read the book, but have appreciated Horowitz’s other writings.I wonder if you have ever read his pamphlet on how to do politics. His point in it is that since the other side is not about to stop using “illicit” means to present their arguements, that the right needs to fight fire with fire. And this might explain why Horowitz engages in ad hominen. It is a sort of leveling of the field, a “yo mama wears combat boot, yeah well yo mamma chews.”There is a great imbalance in major universities. And media credibility is associated with “degrees.” Since the media is itself slanted, they will tend to cull the credentialed authorities that favor their side.I think that this is at least part of David’s concern.Mine is this. Historically, those who have held sway in the universties have determined the course of history. And the current majority does not bode well for mankind.

    Posted by Strong Tower | November 18, 2007, 2:33 am

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