Politicization and the Fall of Academia

The ivory towers of King’s College London’s Maughan Library (Public Domain)

I’ve often met academics who seem mystified and horrified at the extent and depth of conservative animus towards academia. This excellent article does a great job of explaining (1) where this dislike comes from and (2) why it should concern everyone, and not just conservatives.


Entire disciplines—Literature, Anthropology, Sociology, and the various interdisciplinary programs that end in the word “Studies” – have all become more strongly associated with a particular species of left-wing interpretation that now influences the broader discourse in journalism and on social media. In some departments, the social categories of analysis—race, class, and gender—have attained complete hegemony. The most recent convention of the Modern Language Association, the most prominent organization associated with the study of language and literature, hosted three times as many panels on post-colonialism as it did on Shakespeare.


Conservatives will point to statistics such as the imbalance in the ratio between registered Democrats and Republicans as evidence of a political imbalance. Students it is argued are only getting one side of the story. While this sentiment is certainly understandable, it ignores an element of the current phenomena that might be even more deleterious to student learning and thus all the more intractable. The problem isn’t simply one of political imbalance, an absence of parity between Left and Right voices, but the extent to which humanities departments have become politicized.

I’m a conservative (more or less), and so I have an interest in conservatives being able to get their message out. But–independent of that partisan concern which I cannot pretend I do not feel–I have a sincere, non-partisan interest in the quality of public discourse. The politicization of everything is corroding that discourse. When everything is evaluated first in political terms, the conversation often fails to ever get beyond those preliminaries. Battle lines are drawn over rhetoric, terminology, tone, and framing. What’s left is a zombie-discourse, the husk of a conversation serving as a thin veneer for power games.

It’s bad for everyone.

It’s especially bad for academia. If folks like those at Heterodox Academy don’t manage to hold onto a middle-ground position, I’m not sure what the future of the academy in the United States looks like, but it will likely be quite grim. Elite institutions are already much more about the perpetuation of  elitism than education. When the academic content of academia effectively disappears, there will be nothing left except the quasi-covert apparatus of aristocracy.