George Hawley, a professor of political science at the University of Alabama, supplies an invaluable service to students of American politics with his recently published book, Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism.
All too rarely do we encounter a work that is as theoretically as it is practically significant. Though published by an academic press, Hawley’s work has much to say to popular audiences—particularly to those who self-identify as “conservative” or as being “on the right.”
And at this juncture, as the meteoric rise of Donald Trump to the status of GOP presidential frontrunner has been met by Republican Party apologists in the media and political classes with insistence upon “conservative” purity, it’s a timely analysis indeed that reveals the intellectual diversity on the right.
I will say more about this crucial book in the future. For now, though, I’d like to make some brief remarks.
What passes for “conservatism” or “the right” in the mainstream of American media—i.e. in both Democrat and Republican-friendly outlets—is actually neoconservatism. The latter, in turn, is synonymous with what many are currently, and contemptuously, referring to as the GOP “Establishment.”
But as I’ve argued in my own book, The American Offensive: Dispatches from the Front, not only is there little to nothing genuinely conservative about neoconservatism; it is more a species of leftist or “progressive” thought than it is an expression of anything that’s traditionally been associated with the right.
Hawley, for his part, is more concerned with identifying both the dissident voices on the right and, at least as importantly, the relentlessness and effectiveness with which those voices have been “purged” or otherwise excluded from what is known as “the conservative movement.”
He deserves immense credit for achieving both goals in spades.
However, the many virtues of this book aside, Hawley’s discussion of “paleolibertarianism”—an oft-neglected variant of the classical liberal perspective from the genuine right—could’ve been vastly enriched had only he said a thing or two about a specific paleolibertarian writer whose omission from his exposition struck this author as glaring.
That writer is Ilana Mercer.
There are three reasons why it is imperative that Mercer be included in any discussion of paleolibertarianism.
First, and most obviously, she is a paleolibertarian—and a tireless one at that. For decades, this defender of the paleolibertarian vision has published a couple of books and thousands of articles and blog posts in which she’s shattered not only leftist pieties but neocon and “libertarian-lite”(left-wing libertarian) sureties as well. Much blood, sweat, and tears, to say nothing of opportunities for professional advancement, has Mercer foregone in her campaign against the idols of our Politically Correct age.
Second, not only is Mercer a veteran paleolibertarian writer. She is unquestionably the most visible, the most widely read, of such contemporary writers. At one point, she was nationally syndicated by Creators Syndicate, and for nearly the last 20 years, World Net Daily (WND), a site that boasts roughly 1 million visitors a month, has featured Mercer’s weekly column, “Return to Reason”—its “longest standing, exclusive, paleo-libertarian weekly column.”
In addition to WND, Mercer’s work has been showcased in a plethora of outlets, both internationally and stateside, and she’s currently a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.
No paleolibertarian—to repeat, a rightist proponent of a tradition-grounded classical liberal ideal—has nearly as much exposure when it comes to scholarly and popular audiences alike as does Mercer.
Third, Ilana Mercer is a woman. Moreover, she is a Jewish woman, the daughter of a Rabbi who was raised in both South Africa and Israel. This is no insignificant detail: Mercer is a standing repudiation of the stereotype, all too easily reinforced by her exclusion from any study of “right-wing critics of American conservatism,” that such critics are exclusively elderly white men.
Moreover, this willingness on her part to break with the pack—paleolibertarianism, like all political persuasions to the right of Fox News and “conservative” talk radio, tend not to appeal to those who are interested in “social respectability,” much less does it appeal to your average Jewish female intellectual—distinguishes Mercer for both her courage and devotion to truth.
John Derbyshire is a former writer for National Review Online. Hawley correctly identifies him as one of the many right-leaning critics of American “conservatism” who have been unceremoniously rendered into non-entities by its self-appointed guardians. Yet even Derbyshire, who, having written with admiration for Mercer’s work, should’ve known better, neglected to mention her in one of his articles on paleolibertarianism.
Upon lauding the latter as a “once-promising intellectual movement that stayed true to libertarian principles while opposing open borders, libertinism, egalitarianism, and political correctness,” he rejoices that there’s at least one paleolibertarian left.
Yet the person to whom he refers is Hans Hermann Hoppe, a German born political philosopher and economist who is now a retired (but still active) academic living in Turkey.
Hoppe is most certainly a paleolibertarian. And he’s an arresting thinker in his own right.
But Mercer has proven to be a far more influential voice as a right-wing critic of American “conservatism” than either Hoppe or most of the right-wing critics named in Hawley’s book, for unlike many of them, she has invested her resources in promoting paleolibertarianism to a large popular audience.
And unlike most of Hawley’s right-wing critics, she has succeeded not just in acquiring a hearing among very large numbers of readers, but in maintaining that audience over a span of decades.
Before the second edition of his fine book goes to press, I’d urge George Hawley to consider including Ilana Mercer in his section on paleolibertarianism, for both it and his readers would be well served by this addition.
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently featured an article lamenting the lack of “diversity” in my discipline. Philosophy, so goes the article, just hasn’t been welcoming toward minorities and women.
Thankfully, such enlightened departments as that found at Penn State University have endeavored to “decolonize the canon.”
Of course, academia isn’t in the least bit interested in promoting the only diversity that can, or should, mean something in an institution of “higher learning.” Its equation of “diversity” with gender and racial representation is part of the problem.
Indeed—and I say this as someone who is an academic who happened to have grown up in a lower-middle class neighborhood in Trenton, NJ—there exists far more intellectual diversity at the corner bar than can be found in your average college or university.
Not only does the data confirm the endless anecdotal evidence that legions of academic dissidents like myself have acquired over the years. The data reveals that academics are moving even further to the left.
The most recent study available was conducted by the University of California. Its findings were released a little more than three years ago in the November of 2012 issue of Inside Higher Education.
The study identifies five ideological or political categories: “far left,” “liberal,” “middle of the road,” “conservative,” and, finally, “far right.” What it finds is that faculty of all ranks from both universities and colleges, institutions that are private and public, large and small, religious and non-religious, self-identified as “far left” to a significantly greater extent than they had just three years earlier: In 2008, 8.8% so self-identified. In 2011, that number had risen to 12.4%.
In glaring contrast, those who self-identified as “far right” dropped from—wait for it—0.7% to 0.4%.
However, these numbers alone grossly understate the hegemonic rule of leftist thought among faculty on college campuses, for the same study found that the number of self-identified “liberals” increased from 47.0% to 50.3%. Meanwhile, those in “the middle of the road” fell from 28.4% to 25.4%.
As for self-conceived “conservatives,” they too dropped off from 15.2% to 11.5%.
Even at private Catholic and other Christian colleges and universities, “conservatives” and those on the “far right” constitute a tiny minority.
Only 0.3% of the faculty of Catholic institutions locate themselves on the “far right,” compared to 7.8% who identify with the “far left,” and only 13.3% self-identify as “conservative,” compared to 48.0% who self-identify as “liberal.”
At private non-Catholic Christian institutions, “conservatives” have a stronger showing than in any other sector. Yet even here they constitute only 23.0% of faculty. On the other hand, “liberals” compose 40.0% of faculty.
And with 7.4% of the faculty identifying as “far left,” the latter has much more of a presence at these private Christian institutions than one would be inclined to think. At any rate, the “far left” has a vastly stronger presence on such campuses than does the “far right,” with which only 0.6% of faculty relates.
Writing for Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik notes that the leftward trends among faculty have persisted for a long time. George Mason University economics professor, Daniel B. Klein, along with Charlotta Stern, note that in 1972, the ratio of Democrat to Republican in humanities and liberal arts departments was about four-to-one. Today, it is more than eight-to-one. Why?
According to Klein and Stern, academia has the characteristic “antecedent conditions” and “symptoms” of the phenomenon known as “groupthink.”
Academics tend to constitute an “insular” and (ideologically) “homogenous” group that, as such, is self-perpetuating, for academics, presiding as they do over decisions pertaining to who will and won’t be permitted to join their insiders’ club, are disposed to admit those who think like themselves.
Moreover, academics labor under the “illusion of invulnerability” and they share a “belief in the inherent morality of the group” to which they belong. However, “heightened uniformity makes the group overconfident.” Consequently, “members take their ideas to greater extremes” but, “facing less testing and challenge,” their “habits of thought become more foolhardy and close-minded.”
This closed-mindedness is solidified via “collective rationalizations.” The authors explain: “Academic professions develop elaborate scholastic dogmas to justify the omission of challenging or intractable ideas.” Thus, words like “‘normative,’ ‘ideological,’ or ‘advocacy’” are used to sweepingly dismiss viewpoints that depart from the mentality of the herd.
Klein and Stern cite Irving Janis, a scholar of groupthink, who remarks that the “reliance on consensual validation” tends to “replace individual critical thinking and reality-testing.”
Another sign that academics have succumbed to groupthink is their propensity to indulge in “stereotypes of Out-Groups.” Again, Klein and Stern allude to Janis: “One of the symptoms of groupthink is the members’ persistence in conveying to each other the cliché and oversimplified images of political enemies embodied in long-standing ideological stereotypes.” Left-leaning academics, as anyone who has spent any amount of time around them can attest, are guilty as sin in this regard: critics are summarily disregarded as “conservatives” or “right-wingers” who, in turn, are associated with the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, George W. Bush, and so forth.
Conservative and classical liberal thinkers—like, say, Russell Kirk, F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Michael Oakeshott, and Edmund Burke—are rarely, if ever, considered.
“Self-censorship” and “direct pressure on dissenters” are two other “symptoms” of groupthink—and the academic world exemplifies them in spades.
Self-censorship leads to “preference falsification” as academics that disagree with the consensus, rather than express their views, choose instead to go along to get along. Those who dare to step out of line are coerced, in so many ways, to conform. “As the group’s beliefs become more defective [questionable], the group becomes more sensitive to tension, more intolerant of would-be challengers and miscreants.” Klein and Stern add: “This development leads to tighter vetting and expulsion, more uniformity, more intellectual deterioration, and more intolerance.”
It is not toward women and minorities that philosophy and other fields in the humanities are unwelcoming but, rather, those who refuse to endorse leftist groupthink.
Among the variety of other topics that it explores, my book, The American Offensive: Dispatches from the Front, discusses at length the intellectual and moral corruption that pervades much of the humanities and liberal arts in the contemporary academy.
The examples of the corruption are legion. Recently, at San Francisco State University, a white student, Cory Goldstein, was accosted, harangued, and assaulted by a black woman—a university employee—for…wearing dreadlocks.
Evidently, Goldstein “micro-aggressed” against this woman specifically and blacks generally, for he is guilty of “cultural appropriation,” of appropriating a hair style that is distinctive of “black culture.”
“Micro-aggressions,” “cultural appropriation”—these are just some of the terms of the esoteric insider-speak to which college students are daily exposed courtesy of their professors.
To repeat, college students are taught to view their experiences in terms of the template of grievance imposed upon them by their instructors.
In a sane world, a world within which people hadn’t forgotten that the university is an institution whose raison d’etre has been the promotion of Western civilization, the ideological abuses to which the academic world has been subjected would constitute nothing less than an epic scandal.
In a sane world, taxpayers wouldn’t part with one red cent to subsidize this perversion of the university’s historic mission.
But we’re not living in a sane world.
Recently, Charles Murray—long-time scholar and co-author of The Bell Curve, a study of IQ and its practical implications that was published over 20 years ago—was invited to speak at Virginia Tech University. When, however, certain students got wind of this information, they demanded that the university disinvite him.
Black and white leftist student activists issued a statement in which they charge Murray with being a “social Darwinist” and an agent of “hate” and “prejudice:”
“At the time when rising racism, misogyny and anti-intellectualism have moved to the forefront of our national consciousness,” the statement reads, “there is no better place than a college campus from which to focus our efforts against the voices of prejudice and hate [.]”
Murray’s “social Darwinist take on intelligence, ability and morality—and his assertion of the inherent inferiority of non-whites and women—do nothing but promote a white supremacist agenda, cast in the guise of ‘scientific discourse.’”
Containing as it does all of the vapid, but emotionally-charged and politically effective, buzzwords—“racism,” “misogyny,” “prejudice,” “hate,” “social Darwinist,” “white supremacist”—this statement, besides being poorly written, is a classic textbook example of precisely the sort of “anti-intellectualism” of which it convicts Murray.
Yet it is no less insubstantial and ideologically-driven than the statement issued by the faculty of the Africana Studies Program. The latter accused Murray of being “engaged in a mission to use discredited pseudoscience to perpetuate the subordination of people of African descent, Latino/as, Native American Indians, the poor, women and the disabled.”
Murray’s thoughts served to promote a narrative that promised to “visit violence upon marginalized populations—recalling the history of forced sterilization, unjust institutionalization and incarceration, and denial of basic human rights.”
Comparison of these two statements, one by students, the other by faculty, is telling in that it underscores what critics of the contemporary university have been saying for far too long:
While there is indeed much learning that occurs in our institutions of higher learning, far too little of it is higher learning.
Students, that is, are learning from their professors how to become leftist ideologues.
They’re learning that “the personal is political” and, as such, both that every aspect of life is politicized and that it must be politicized in the image of their ideology.
Unfortunately, though, they are not learning how to think.
And if the statement by the faculty of the Africana Studies Program is any indication, students aren’t learning how to think because at least some of the faculty isn’t up to the task of teaching them.
The faculty statement at Virginia Tech is indistinguishable from that of the students insofar as it consists of such stock terms in vogue as “subordination” and “marginalized populations.” Moreover, like that of their student counterparts, faculty too lambast Murray’s work as “pseudoscience”—even though, like their students, you can bet dollars to donuts that none of them have ever so much as thought to read any of Murray’s scholarship, much less have they read The Bell Curve.
In an institution devoted to education, instead of political activism, neither faculty nor students would think to regurgitate fallacy-ridden canned statements and uninformed ad hominem attacks against scholars with whom they disagree. Rather, at an institution of higher learning, both faculty and students would know a thing or two about how to make cogent arguments to substantiate their views, and they would welcome opportunities to genuinely listen to and critically engage the exponents of those positions that they question.
But demonizing one’s opponents with a little abusive language jammed in between bumper sticker slogans is so much easier than conversing with them. It’s easier in that it requires less time, less knowledge, and a whole lot less courage: There’s no better way to immunize one’s own beliefs against criticism.
As I and others have been contending, the corruption of academia is systemic. It isn’t just the faculty and student statements at Virginia Tech that reveal this. The administration as well issued a statement that illustrates the groupthink.
Tim Sands, the president of the school, released an “open letter” to the school community. To his credit, he refused to rescind the invitation to Murray. Yet he referred to Murray’s work (particularly in The Bell Curve) as “largely discredited” and “a flawed socioeconomic theory that has been used by some to justify fascism, racism and eugenics.”
“Largely discredited” [read: pseudoscience]; “flawed…theory;” “fascism,” “racism,” “eugenics”: This could’ve easily been written any of Virginia Tech’s student activists.
Murray replied, claiming that President Sands was “unfamiliar either with the actual content of The Bell Curve” or “with the state of knowledge in psychometrics.”
My guess is that, like his students and faculty, Sands was unfamiliar with both.
The Young Messiah (TYM) is a film at once entertaining and endearing. An admittedly fictionalized imagining of Jesus as a seven year-old boy, this movie’s treatment of its subject matter is eminently respectful.
Not everyone feels this way, however.
Dave Armstrong, a “professional Catholic apologist,” concedes in Patheos that “there are several aspects of [the] development of the human knowledge of Jesus…that are legitimate and perfectly orthodox [.]” It is, though, unorthodox and, hence, illegitimate to depict Christ as “growing into… awareness” of His identity, for the Church has affirmed for centuries that, from conception, Jesus knew that He was God (italics added).
Armstrong quotes Neil Madden who, writing at Conservative Review, makes the following remark:
“’The Young Messiah’” depicts Mary and Joseph as having more knowledge about Jesus’s true nature than He does. This is a problem. If Jesus was always God, begotten and not made, surely wouldn’t an omnipotent God know who he was as he was learning and growing in preparation for His mission here on Earth?”
Though Armstrong doesn’t seem to notice it, he and Madden are actually making two distinct points. Armstrong’s point is that Jesus, in His humanity, knew that He was God from the time that He was conceived. Madden, on the other hand, refers to Jesus in His divinity.
Doubtless, this controversy stems from nothing less than the mystery of the uniquely Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, the doctrine that God became a human being in Jesus: Christ is “true God and true man,” fully divine and fully human.
Two replies to TYM’s critics are in the coming.
First, if Neil Madden is correct that Jesus, being “an omnipotent God” must have always known His own identity “as he was learning and growing in preparation for His mission here on Earth,” then there would’ve been no “learning and growing in preparation” for that mission, for “an omnipotent God” would’ve had already known all that could be known about everything and anything.
On the other hand, if the “omnipotence” of Christ in His divinity is compatible with Christ in His humanity coming to learn and grow in some matters, then it is, in principle, compatible with Christ as fully human coming to learn and grow in all matters.
Secondly, unlike Madden, Armstrong alludes to Christ in His humanity, Christ at conception. Yet even here it is a mistake to think that if Christ knew from conception that He was God that He could not have grown into an awareness of His identity.
The two propositions do not necessarily contradict one another—as long as “knowledge” isn’t construed in an unduly shallow sense.
From at least the time of Plato throughout the centuries until Freud and beyond, a great many thinkers (and non-thinkers alike) have been of the mind that knowledge can be explicit and implicit, conscious and unconscious. Examples abound to suggest that this position has something going for it.
Take, for instance, what is known as “the principle of non-contradiction,” the principle that a thing can’t be and not be in the same respect and at the same time, that “(A) and (non-A)” must be false. Though most people outside of philosophy and logic classes have never heard of this principle, everyone knows it, for it is the most fundamental law of all thought.
Students must “grow into an awareness” of the principle of non-contradiction. And yet they’ve known it all of their lives.
If knowing could consist in human subjects growing into an awareness of (at least some of) what they already implicitly know, then how much more fitting would such an approach be regarding the God-Man? Consider: As God, Christ would had to have known all things from eternity. As a man, Christ would have to have grown and developed like all humans—even if that knowledge was already in Him from conception.
In conclusion, TYM’s portrayal of Jesus as learning His divine identity from Joseph and Mary is compatible with the position that, in His divinity, He always knew His identity. It’s also compatible with the idea that Christ, in His humanity, knew His identity from conception.
The only position that the thesis of TYM obviously contradicts is the thesis that Jesus, in His humanity, or from conception, was fully conscious of his divine nature, for if this thesis was true, then it would’ve indeed been logically impossible for Jesus to have grown into a consciousness of His identity.
The Young Messiah doesn’t deviate at all from theological orthodoxy when it comes to the question of Jesus’s knowledge of His own divine identity.