A few weeks ago, a parent wrote to me asking if I could recommend at least a dozen non-woke and ideologically uncompromised schools for her son to attend in the United States. She, her husband, and her son had been researching for eighteen months. They found only three schools. I thought about her dilemma and began my own investigation.
After two weeks I told her, sadly, that I could not make any good-faith recommendations. Any school I might recommend today could and, in all likelihood, would go the corrupt route in a year’s time. I identified five schools I would have recommended enthusiastically two years ago. Predictably, they are as left-leaning, woke, and egregiously anti-American and anti-Western Civilization today as one could ever have imagined. The idea pathogens suffusing our culture and universities as of today have no fool-proof inoculants. I advised her to find a college whose faculty appeared to have consistently produced old-fashioned scholarly work over time. Look at the syllabi of professors in the discipline your son wants to pursue and keep your fingers crossed, I added. She thanked me, and then asked me if the universities were burning down that fast.
Yes, I responded. I’m afraid the institutions are burning at an unprecedented rate. The radical professoriate, the bloated and totalitarian bureaucratic administrators, and their ventriloquists—the student rebels—have already lit the fires. It is not a passionate creative fire that lights the way and inspires the soul to new and visionary heights; rather, it is a nihilistic and rageful fire that burns everything of value in its path because it is of value, and it is foundational and universal. That raging fire is selectively destructive.
And what is the goal of such intellectual arsonists? To annihilate the social goods, the values and the principles that make us virtuous, and human. The goal is not primarily the destruction of our republic or of Western civilization. It is the destruction of the humanity of each individual and the concomitant creation of the post-human or trans-human. Such creatures are existential antipodes to the concept of civilization (any civilization) as such. Civilization will not die apocalyptically, but it will be bled to death by thousands of tiny scratches via the death of each individual as his or her humanity is slowly eviscerated by the putrefaction, the rot, the corruption, the indoctrination, and the razed agency of those who will not think and dissent from received wisdom and codified orthodoxy.
The purpose of a liberal arts education, in general, was to make students into autonomous and sovereign self-governing agents who would be able to navigate the world successfully, cull a conception of the good life for themselves, and live a life of flourishing based on rational and moral principles that would suffuse their individual lives. By studying the lives of great men and women, and pondering the great questions put forth by literature, philosophy, and the social sciences, students in the past, left with an heroic picture of man: a being who, though flawed, was able to transcend said flaws, grow beyond them, and exist in a state of self-reflection that produced moral and spiritual growth and an ever-expanding conception of what constitutes the common good.
Today, the image of the human presented on today’s college campuses is a total aberration. It resembles a late-stage aborted fetus, screaming in abysmal, metaphysical terror at a universe it cannot and will never understand. It looks and sounds like an irreversibly feral creature. This image cultivated in our universities spreads out to the worlds of art, media, and our political institutions at large— indeed, all spheres of our morally bankrupt modern culture: the human as a depraved, monstrously grotesque repository of rage, unbridled feelings, and messy pollutants. This is exactly what the nihilistic vanguards of our culture are aiming for. And their primary prey and victims? America’s children. Upon graduating from today’s universities, I can assure you that almost all graduates leave with one distinct feeling: an important part of myself has gone missing.
I’m not sure how a gang of intellectual thugs who have taken over the educational system can be reformed; or, rather, how the system can be reformed once they are functioning as leaders of the institutions and fiduciaries of the students. I think an elite set of new universities will have to be created. And further: we will have to exercise rational discrimination regarding who is allowed in. Not everyone can be part of the new future. Radical exclusion versus radical indiscriminate inclusivity, which is what we have now—will have to be our ruling mantra. Radical liberalism promised promiscuous inclusion and the barbarians took over the cities, and the cities have become jungles. Everyone gets reduced to a statistical average or to the lowest common denominator today.
At the same time, I cannot write off an entire generation of students. Too many are struggling to liberate themselves from the yoke of oppression. That is why I remain in the academy after 26 years. I must reach these desperate young men and women. What happens to the social ballasts? That is, those who don’t want to be reached, to think, to make an effort to escape their self-imposed ossification, their tragic rigidity? That, perhaps, becomes a job for the sanitation department if they are not willing to reform themselves. But new universities will have to be created that are devoted to the cultivation of excellence and real thinking, and where all forms of social activism in place of scholarship are prohibited.
Truth seeking is very important. The concept of truth as an objective feature is seen as oppressive in the liberal arts. Why? Because it relies on belief in objective reality, reason, and logic as universal criteria for adjudicating among competing truth claims. All of the above are assumed to be the creation of racist, Dead White European Males who created such categories as ways of dismissing “competing ways of knowing” that minorities and oppressed people possess. That is: pure unbridled feelings. The idea of a shared common humanity of persons who all possess the faculty of reason that have universal features is seen as exclusionary and racist. Don’t try to find the logic in all of this madness. There isn’t any. It is all based on an insidious form of identity politics, and a blood-lusting quest for power among competing groups. Multiculturalism is one of the chief idea pathogens responsible for this malarkey.
As an academic philosophy professor of twenty-six years, I can say that Academia is not dead. The universities, as I’ve written several times, are living, breathing national security threats that function as indoctrination centers and bastions for nihilistic activists whose twin goals are the destruction of the U.S. republic and of Western civilization. They are breeding grounds for enemies of the state. They are beyond reform. One deals with them the way one deals logically with any national security threat. Over the last few weeks as we watched university presidents from Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania aid and abet antisemitism in their testimonies before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, we saw the rot and detritus and moral corruption and evil that have been festering for decades in our nation’s institutions of higher learning.
What can one do? Parents can begin by realizing that the old-fashioned universities are not coming back. Ever. They can watch the new universities that are emerging and that claim to be presenting an alternative. Watch them with skepticism. Our culture is so bankrupt and bereft to the core that it will be difficult for an educational system to develop a purified state of pedagogy and to attract a cadre of students who will not pollute the experiment with sensibilities drawn from the rot of the present. Parents who have children with entrepreneurial proclivities can use the money they would spend on their children’s university education to invest in their business start-up projects. Help your offspring to investigate mentorship and internship programs which many corporations are creating for high-school graduates with talent. Desist in thinking that the only way to achieve upward mobility is through a pedigreed elite college degree that will guarantee one’s child a high-paying, white-collar job. The truth is, many expensive college diplomas qualify—at best—one for a mid-level management position. Perhaps a floor manager at a chain store. Have your offspring take a gap year after high school to make a life-plan that is truly suited to his or her disposition. Trade schools are not to be looked down upon. Their graduates, in more cases than not, make more money than a newly minted assistant professor in the humanities, or even a lawyer in a run-of-the-mill law firm. Homes will always need plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and good old-fashioned handymen. Many parents, therefore, will have to disabuse themselves of their class prejudices. If not, then the world will do it for them.
Above all, the heart of the battle lies in ideas. It is ethical relativism, the destruction of ideas as such but, more importantly, the wholesale slaughter of morality and universal moral principles that got us here. The decline of the universities is inextricability linked to a collapse in the foundational values that tie our republic and Western civilization together: a growing skepticisms in the idea that truth exists and that there are criteria for adjudicating among disputing truth claims; a decline in the belief that reason, not feelings, is a tool of cognition, and that we discover an objective reality by perceiving it with our senses, not by creating it with our feelings and wishes; the belief that entitlement, aggrievement, and victimization by virtue of our mere existence are our natural condition as human beings; multicultural identity politics and the tribalism it fosters on campuses and then in the general society; and a growing nihilism in our civilization which means destruction of the good and of values because they are good and of value, with no creative desire to replace that which is being destroyed with any viable alternatives.
I tried to explain this phenomenon to a parent twenty years ago when she was upset that her son got a B rather than an A in my ethics course. She did not want to hear about values, and the correlation between effort and grade, and the real distinction between a B and an A. She made a strong argument from the principle of expediency and pragmatism. I had compromised her son’s chances of getting into graduate school by, in her mind, arbitrarily assigning him a B. That he had earned the grade was lost upon her. I tried to function like a wholesaler rather than a retailer in the realm of value-cognition; that operating from sheer pragmatism and expediency on a singular level was also interconnected on multiple levels. The reverberations would be enormous if we ceased framing issues in terms of fundamental principles. I tried to explain that we were future-oriented beings who could not live cyclical lives like animals, and that the best way for us to extend our visions for our lives and to realize our life plans for our future was to tie them to some unifying principles predicated on our nature as comprehensive rational beings, not episodic creatures who lived only in the immediacy of the moment. She could not fathom what I was saying. Her neo-cortex had, like so many, simply shut down. A lifetime devoted to radical compromises and pragmatism and expediency had left her unable to see the consequences and fallout from the ethical maladies a civilization had wedded itself to.
The new universities, should they come into existence, can resemble nothing like contemporary society which has destroyed the relationship between the individual and himself or herself. Afterall, they ought not to reflect or duplicate so-called reality, but, rather, to offer an alternative to the contemporary state. With such new universities the moral will be practical. The breach between the two realms was caused, in part, by the cult of irrationalism, and by post-modern obituarists who declared the death of man, of the subject, and of God Himself. The new university will have to be the breeding ground for a new type of rational individualist who also loves the human species—a humanist—with an heroic view of him- or herself that gets transmitted to the world at large. There are such giants who exist, and who can and who will change the world. What we must do is encourage them not to be afraid of the world and of those who have convinced them they have the power to inflict damage on visionary gamechangers.
These new moral giants are the new transmitters of a new culture. They must be regenerative in their approach to teaching and scholarship. They must bring the student back to his or her spiritual anchor point so they can know how to reason ethically and find moral clarity in life, never, ever to be divorced from their moral center of gravity. We must let these new moral intellectuals know they are not alone; that there are those among us, like myself, who believe in truth and goodness and beauty and universal moral principles.
And I trust that no one will tell me that such people do not exist. If we build it, they will come.