Monday, January 21, 2008

Diversity Training

The one article of faith that cannot be contested on today's college campuses is the sacredness of diversity. What diversity actually means is anyone's guess, since, while it's heretical to question any aspect of anyone's particular identity - whether biological or cultural - it's also apostasy to suggest that such identities are inescapable. We are at once to believe that identities are given and that they are chosen, that they are unquestioningly good yet also subject to "questioning" in our pursuit of "critical thinking." It just depends.

I'm not the first to point out that, while our diversity is not even skin deep, it stops well short of being tolerated in the realm of politics and ideas. As reported in today's edition of the "Daily Princetonian," the Princeton faculty has without exception donated to the campaigns of Democratic candidates thus far in this Presidential campaign. Only one Republican has received any donations at all from non-faculty - directed to Ron Paul, about as heterodox a choice imaginable. Yet we are told that this doesn't mean anything, that no one speaks of politics on campus and it has no impact on the tenor of the campus. I taught at Princeton for eight years, and I can attest, it's reflected in the everyday assumption that there can be no intelligent criticism of the reigning Democratic orthodoxies - mainly because the faculty makes sure that there is no one present to make such criticisms. The use of the pronoun "we" is positively chilling - as during a dinnertime conversation at the faculty club when one faculty member declared, "Now that John Rawls has shown us what justice is, why can't we just enforce it?" It's much easier to unselfconsciously use the word "we" when you can be certain that you know no one will object.

The absence of intellectual diversity reflected in the donation patterns at our leading universities is a deeper reflection of the absence of truly alternative views on our campuses. The two donations to Ron Paul are a case in point: the gamut runs from very liberal to very libertarianm - either that humans can institute perfect justice with government or in the absence of government. In both cases, what is wholly absent is a position that challenges our deepest modern orthodoxies - such as, that economic growth is an unquestioned good or that the earth was created for our personal comfort and exploitation. Our Rawlsians are indistinguishable from our Reaganites when it comes to the base reliance upon a growth economy as the basis for a good society (whether welfare or individualist), just as our "environmentalists" are as much techno-optimists as our free market libertarians. The future can only be bigger and better because that's the way it's been for the past century. Past performance is a perfect guarantee of future performance, isn't it? (perhaps not reflected in tomorrow's opening of the stock market, I fear...). The idea that there's diversity on our campuses is nearly as funny as the canard that we academics are creating "original research!"


Dominick said...

Professor Deneen, I have heard you speak and check into this blog from time to time and many times it forces me to rethink some of my positions. (that is a good thing) I am what one would consider loosely a "conservative Republican" but never understood the unquestioning attitude some on the right have towards environmental stewardship, the destruction of local communities that unfettered capitalism sometimes brings,etc. However I sense that changing among younger people of the right, and I'm glad.

I do have one question for you, do you think the knee jerk anti-intellectualism and antipathy towards the arts the right has embraced over the last half century has lead to the lack of conservative professors on campus or a prominent conservative presence in the arts?

Patrick Deneen said...

Dominick -
No, I don't think that's it; conservatism rightly understood ought rightly to be the great defender of the arts (perhaps also rightly understood). What the Right has attacked (and rightly, in my view) is the subsidization of anti-American, anti-religious and anti-Western art by such public entities as the NEA and NEH. This is different from being anti-art. Rather, it is rightfully the refusal on the part of ordinary, law-abiding and decent people to pay taxes in part to have their decency insulted and undermined by self-styled radicals like Serrano and Maplethorpe.

The reason why there are fewer conservatives everywhere on campus has more to do with the hostility toward tradition and traditionalism that is shared widely on both the Left and our so-called contemporary Right (this is no less true for our contemporary Republicans, who outnumber conservatives on our campuses in the form of libertarians, most often inhabiting economics departments. It never fails to annoy me when liberals point to such libertarians as evidence of ideological diversity. As if).

I've written about these structural reasons here:

These same reasons explain why there are comparatively few conservative - or traditional - professors in the Arts, inasmuch as our artistic preferences are also dictated by our anti-traditionalism. One finds no shortage of "radicals" and "iconoclasts" in our arts programs, but very few traditionalists for this reason. Here again, the irony is that few of these people can articulate why we should study the history of art, except as a progressive narrative of the Promethean liberation of humanity from the shackles of form and order.