|Jul/Aug 2006 Book Reviews|
The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America
Regnery Publishing, Inc. 2006. 456 pp.
David Horowitz is worried. Worried about the world, worried about the future, worried about kids. Specifically, he's worried about college kids, those malleable, impressionable, tabula-rasa prototypes of next-generation power whose innocent minds are targeted daily by wicked liberal professors with wicked liberal opinions and wicked liberal tenure. The Academy, Horowitz tells us, is skating straight to hell, drafting young mental athletes for a high-stakes game of crack-the-whip along the way.
Maybe we should all be worried. Horowitz himself, the son of American Communist Party parents, alumnus of not one but two infamous liberal hotbeds (Columbia and Berkeley) started out quite clearly brainwashed-by-the-Left. He worked for Ramparts. He hung with the Black Panthers. Worse, he helped the latter advance their violent anti-white, anti-establishment agenda through the two most powerful avenues available at any point on the left-right continuum: money and lawyers. The Panthers lost. But Horowitz "wise[d] up!" (Thanks, Mr. Natural.) He changed. He got older. He evolved. And now he's a guiding light of the far right, here to tell us that left-wing professors are out to eat the minds of the young. His SparkNotes inspired tour guide to Bad Profs 101 profiles those he seems to consider the worst of the lot.
This is not a collection of choirboys. Depending on your own perspective, you might find the book's descriptions of all, most, or some of these professors' ideas/teaching strategies unappealing. You might also not care that the depictions aren't all that reliable; several of the professors profiled have taken the time to point out inaccuracies in the book's research, reporting, and attribution. Horowitz accuses his chosen faculty members of holding non-mainstream views and sharing those points of view with students. But the weirdness of their notions isn't his real concern. What troubles Horowitz is weirdness that resides anywhere left of the extreme right.
Some of those included in this roundup are Islamists and outspoken critics of American foreign policy both before the attacks of September 11, 2001, and after. Collectively, they posit that the hijackers had their reasons. They advocate global jihad. They speak ill of Israel. They probably prefer their women veiled and pregnant.
Others are anti-white, anti-capitalist, and/or otherwise anti-establishment. Some inhabit the misty afterglow of Marx, some see American society as incorrigibly racist, some oppose U.S. military intervention wherever and whenever it occurs, and some really, really scary ones can probably be held at least partly responsible for the transmutation of the once-wholesome feminism into the new f-word. Each thumbnail portrait does its best to give us reasons not to invite its subject to the church picnic, especially if we're applying for the minister's job.
Well, then, let's not invite them.
But let's not fall for this nonsensical screed, either. It's a self-serving rant, too sad to be laughable. The author, one of those bipolarized characters whose need for elbow room makes him incapable of surviving in anything but marginal space, has already traveled from one extreme to another, and if he lives to be a hundred, may well bounce back again. And again. This volume's concern for the young is a smokescreen. The book, like much of the author's current work, is self-aggrandizing and opportunistic, the research is superficial and unreliable, the profiles are one-sided.
Then again, perhaps a percentage of these "dangerous professors" are flattered to have made the list. Perhaps his pot and their kettle have a certain inherent kinship. If there's a leftist out there compiling a counterpoint volume, no doubt a number of radical right-wing Christian academics will also be delighted to be noticed. Maybe it's all just another Survivor spinoff, Jesus versus the jihad, with slogans courtesy of an everyone's-an-expert-now media environment. In some quarters, this passes for entertainment.
The trouble with in-your-face political strife in academia isn't that extreme leftists or extreme rightists or even extreme centrists might effect mass conversions among the young. Although something of that sort did seem to happen in the late sixties, it's not likely to be repeated today. The sixties generation arrived at college with a certain degree of cultural consistency. Because of the Cold War, everyone had done time under elementary-school desks preparing for nuclear attack. Everyone had been immersed in Sputnik-inspired science. Because the curriculum was stratified into college-prep and business-diploma layers, every college freshman had choked down at least one Shakespearean drama per year of high-school English. Because their World War II generation parents considered civics a family value, everyone, regardless of curriculum layer, knew what bicameral legislature meant. Most important, almost everyone carried a portfolio of givens that included the perfectibility of American society. The temporary radicalization of millions might have had a push from left-leaning professors, but it got its real energy from a series of public events that dramatically underscored the perfectible society's need for an immediate and extensive tune-up. Assassination. Institutional disregard for civil rights laws. Lynching. Vietnam. The outing of sexism. Each horror landed like a body blow to a generation's anointed best-and-brightest. Their common illusions ensured a common disillusion. Today's freshmen have no such consistent expectations. The fragmentation of their parents' and grandparents' generations has led to a splitting apart of commonality, and a typical freshman English class now includes sprinklings of functional illiterates, home-schooled Christians, angry hippie spawn, and a core constituency brought up on fast food, televised mayhem, and the family trip to Disney World as hajj. Few harbor any silly illusions of perfectible America. They rarely give a damn about politics or philosophy. Most have no idea why the news is the news.
While turf wars trump teaching, record numbers of graduates are leaving campus with no more investment in the future of America than they carried along from high school. Horowitz is not entirely mistaken: some academics are indeed more wrongheaded than the devil himself. But not all the knuckleheads are leftists. And in the brief interval between high school's stoner-jock polarities and the even more bizarre restrictions of the successful-career-as-grail, even twisted passions offer starting points. Even lunacy can have merit, if its effect is to shock and awaken a comatose mind. Once awakened, as Horowitz's personal saga attests, the mind can move forward and find its own way. Free speech, however appalling, is the voice of dreams, and in dreams, we remember from Yeats, begins responsibility.