Conservative Scholars Ponder War and Peace in Nation’s CapitolWASHINGTON
Frequently invoking historical examples from the Cold War, World War II, and other military conflicts, speakers at a conservative scholars’ conference portrayed political correctness and multiculturalism as perilous ideologies for Americans in the current war on terrorism.
Meeting in downtown Washington last month, roughly 200 people attended the 10th national conference of the National Association of Scholars (NAS) to ponder the theme “Higher Education and Democracy in War and Peace.”
The NAS group, formed 15 years ago to combat the alleged excesses of multiculturalist ideology and political correctness in American higher education, enjoyed a warm welcome from officials in the Bush administration. NAS member Dr. Bruce Cole, the Bush-appointed chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, gave the keynote address of the conference. In addition, federal officials briefed NAS members on grant programs to support scholarship and academic projects.
In contrast to recent NAS national meetings, discussions of race-conscious affirmative action — a policy that the NAS adamantly opposes — academic reform and curriculum issues took a decidedly lower profile at this conference given its focus on the consequences of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America. Like previous national meetings, the NAS conference proceeded in a mostly serious, yet occasionally jocular mood. Few people under the age of 40 were in attendance, and still fewer were people of color.
Dr. Stephen H. Balch, president of the NAS, opened the meeting with an address criticizing contemporary higher education leaders and professors for harboring an elitism that he believes undermines American democratic processes and institutions.
“Beyond their specialized knowledge, the judgments of academics on matters of broad civic concern are not obviously superior to those of the citizenry as a whole. And nowhere has this been more in evidence than in the discursive aftermath of 9/11,” Balch told the NAS audience.
“If anointment by Harvard, Princeton or Stanford leads a budding lawyer, journalist or politician to feel empowered to rule his compatriots, rather than participate with them in the deliberations of public life; if it leaves him convinced that the common culture is simply his to deconstruct, redesign or supervene; if it conveys the view that meaningful history began only in his lifetime, and that the prior record is but one of ignorance and folly, then our democracy is in trouble deep,” he concluded.
While Balch found fault with the purported elitist attitudes of academics surfacing in the wake of Sept. 11, other speakers decried multiculturalism and political correctness as more immediate dangers for Americans.
Dr. Ronald Radosh, a professor emeritus of history in the City University of New York, observed that in the 1950s influential Americans accused of being illegally active in the Communist party escaped justice because defenders protected them by either lying or blindly defending their civil liberties. According to his defenders, one influential 1950s labor leader “was being tried for his ideas,” Radosh told the NAS audience during a panel discussion entitled “Academic Freedom and Political Correctness in Wartime.”
In recent years, the labor leader’s son, historian Dr. Albert V. Lannon, published a biography, which details the Communist party affiliation and activities of his father, Al Lannon. The book contradicts the denials of Lannon’s defenders, according to Radosh. “These people regularly lied” in their defense of Lannon, he said.
“We can’t make the same mistake again in the war against terrorism,” Radosh said with regard to the purported apologists for militant Islam.
He charged that political correctness already has given cover to individuals, such as Dr. Sami Al-Arian, the controversial former University of South Florida computer science professor who lost his job over ties to militant Islamic organizations. “Al-Arian has become the poster boy of political correctness for the political left,” Radosh said.
Dr. Daniel Pipes, the director of the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia, contended that despite the displays and heightened feelings of patriotism by Americans, “9/11 made the climate for PC (political correctness) better, not worse.” One example is the extent to which academic commentators have been failing to define the word “jihad” as meaning “armed struggle for the expansion of Islam,” according to Pipes.
Pipes cited numerous times where professors speaking to the news media have either downplayed or denied jihad’s definition as one primarily meaning armed struggle or conflict. “This is a wholesale distortion of a simple term,” he asserted.
In a group session entitled, “Culture Wars: Multiculturalism Since September 11,” Dr. Candace de Russy, a State University of New York trustee and NAS board member, defined multiculturalist ideology as one positing “that all cultures are equally benevolent except western culture.”
“Multiculturalism is quite simply cultural treason,” de Russy said.
De Russy said multiculturalist ideology can lead a society toward destructive identity politics, and permanent racial and ethnic divisions. So far in the United States, multiculturalism has wrought havoc largely within the confines of American colleges and universities where “entire disciplines have been lost to multiculturalist ideology,” according to de Russy.
“Most Americans regard multiculturalism as an exotic nuisance rather than as a clear and present danger,” she explained.
De Russy charged that the U.S. war on terrorism makes it vitally urgent that Americans put a stop to the “multicultural lie” before it leads to the acceptance and tolerance of dangerous risks.
In addition to speakers issuing dire warnings on multiculturalism and political correctness, a few of the invited panelists offered what might be considered left-of-center perspectives. Discussing the theme, “Is Patriotism Compatible with Higher Education,” Dr. William A. Galston, the Sol Stern Professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Affairs and a former Clinton political appointee, noted that there’s “a tension between patriotism and the free inquiry nurtured by higher education.
“To some extent, every nation is conceived in sin and sustained through moral compromise. Higher education can help us keep this reality firmly in mind, and in so doing, to mute dangerous extremes of both patriotism and dissent,” Galston told the NAS audience.
Other speakers in the traditionalist NAS camp cautioned against the alleged tendency of academic liberals and radicals to subscribe to political cosmopolitanism or to self-deception about their fields of study, such as in Middle Eastern or Chinese studies.
Cosmopolitanism, according to Dr. Walter Berns, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has motivated some scholars to denigrate the notion of patriotism because it encourages parochialism in citizens. Berns quoted prominent scholar Dr. Martha Nussbaum in his talk at the NAS meeting, who urged that citizens pledge their “allegiance to the world community of justice and reason.”
“But where is this world community to which we can pledge our allegiance? The United Nations?” Berns asked sarcastically. NAS HONORS
The NAS honored four scholars in three categories. Dr. Harvey C. Mansfield, a political philosopher at Harvard University, received the Sidney Hook Memorial award, which goes to someone who has distinguished himself in the defense of academic freedom and the integrity of academic life. Drs. Norman Fruman and Jeremiah Reedy received the Barry R. Gross Memorial award, which honors individuals for their service and contributions to the NAS. Dr. Paul Hollander, a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, was given the Peter Shaw Memorial award, which honors exemplary writing on issues related to higher education and American intellectual culture.
In a speech entitled, “Harvard’s Virtue,” Mansfield, an outspoken conservative scholar who once laid blame on today’s widespread grade inflation upon the affirmative action-based increase of Black students in higher education from the 1970s, criticized the academic culture of his employer.
“In sum, Harvard follows the trend of all American education in setting the self-esteem of students as its goal. Self-esteem is the promise of multiculturalism and affirmative action, the two university policies characteristic of our time whose purpose is to give everyone the easy confidence of George W. Bush when he was an undergraduate at Yale,” Mansfield pronounced.
“The atmosphere provided at Harvard is forgiving rather than demanding, but there is also an atmosphere that the students create for themselves. What is demanding comes more from them than from the faculty,” he said.
In keeping with the theme of patriotism, the Peter Shaw Memorial award went to Paul Hollander for his 1981 book Political Pilgrims: Travels of Western Intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba 1928-1978. The book explores the history of western intellectuals who embraced the vision of so-called revolutionary societies while scorning the virtues of their native liberal democratic cultures.
“(Hollander) and his powerful books served as a catalyst for this organization,” according to NAS’s Balch. He added that reading Political Pilgrims during the 1980s inspired him in part to help launch the NAS.
“Ideas have consequences,” Balch noted.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com