Egads! Have the Radicals Really Taken Over Our History Departments?
Mr. Bray is a graduate student in history at UCLA. His blog may be viewed here.
The scene: Miss Havisham wanders the halls of her blog, where she has stopped all the clocks. Marxists and postmodernists line the tables, untouched since that fateful day in 1986…
Oh, for the old days, when history professors like William Archibald Dunning and Frederick Jackson Turner just told the objective truth and kept their politics out of their scholarship. Today, our universities are crawling with Marxists and postmodernists; in our history departments, we study nothing but race, class, and gender. Dead white males are strictly excluded as topics for research and the classroom. The search for the truth, once respected and embraced on university campuses, is dead.
"The postmodern game," Fred Siegel recently explained," consists of an insistence that objective judgments are impossible, since all knowledge is riddled with prejudice, power considerations, ethnocentric assumptions and so on. The trick is that these prejudices infect only those who differ from the (almost always left-wing) positions of the professors." Siegel explains that postmodernism has triumphed"on campus after campus -- where the tenure system ensures that only like-minded scholars are accepted and deters those with different ideas from even considering the academy as a career choice."
Indeed, the entrenchment has assured the persistence of all prior schools of historical interpretation, the Dunningites and the Beardians and the Turnerians among them, locked tightly into place by the tenure system and self-selection. (Is anything more popular on campus these days than the Turner thesis? Ah, the lazy afternoons whiled away on the campus lawn, chatting carelessly about the significance of the frontier and the conquest of savages…) Legislative intervention is clearly needed, given the intransigence of the academy, and David Horowitz has started the ball rolling. Fortunately for conservatives, legislative social engineering no longer comes with unintended consequences.
To see the red stains of Marxism, postmodernism, and identity group studies spreading across the academy, take a moment with the American Historical Association’s Directory of Dissertations in Progress. As an example, let’s search the index of dissertations currently underway at my own university, UCLA. The contempt for traditional historiography and dead white males is manifest in every radical project:
- "The Engine of Expansion: Fiscal Reorganization in 13th-Century Aragon"
- "Statute Books and the Professional Civil Servant in England, 1250–1350"
- "The Late Enlightenment Periodical Press in Hamburg, 1767–87"
- "The Development of Early Christian Thought on Forgiveness and Reconciliation"
In the U.S. field, UCLA dissertations in progress not listed at the AHA site include critical biographies of Henry Adams and Thomas Nast, both generally believed to be white, male, and dead. You can almost feel this next generation of historians panting and sweating as they fight to destroy America.
Or, you know, maybe not. It’s a confusing time to be a grad student, awash in the curiously unreal stream of Horowitzian ranting and spurious legislation for"academic freedom." Victor Davis Hanson tells me that the contemporary university is a" counterculture circus" dominated by"race studies, queer studies, gender studies, etc." FrontPage Magazine tells me that I’m surrounded by snarling, intolerant communists and oh-so po-mo truth-deniers who hate America, white males, and anything identifiable as a tradition. A professor at the Virginia Military Institute tells me that academic historians – identified in her text only by such helpful labels as"the Queer Theorist,""the Feminist," and"the Multiculturalist" – are condescendingly intolerant of anything even vaguely military in nature.
And I, a white male heterosexual former infantryman who has become a grad student in a history department at a major research university, continue to enjoy going to the meetings of my advisor’s dissertation group, where we discuss the latest chapter of a Ph.D. candidate’s monograph on Henry Adams. Someone is confused.
This quarter, I’m working as a teaching assistant for a historian described by FrontPageMagazine as"typical of a large cohort in what have become the thoroughly politicized humanities" and a"militant feminist." And, indeed, the topics this professor has chosen to cover so far in her survey course on nineteenth century U.S. history are noteworthy for their radical militancy. She has taught students about republicanism, federalism, Jacksonian democracy, the nullification crisis… And the tragic list goes on. Look away, ye who seek historical truth! It is indeed an outrage that historians in our universities could be allowed to teach such radical feminist subjects as"the presidency of Thomas Jefferson."
So let’s get that David Horowitz legislation passed before it’s too late for America’s young people, and they all turn into queer theorist postmodernist Marxist feminist postcolonial multiculturalists. Because once they go funny like that, it’s only a matter of time until they start writing about those damn statute books and professional civil servants in England from 1250–1350.
In the meantime, doesn’t Victor Davis Hanson owe us a jeremiad against the beatnik menace?
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William . H. Leckie, Jr. - 5/1/2005
A final, if late word: Hanson's scholarship on ancient Greece is also ideologically loaded. His study of hoplite warfare is a paean to the one decisive battle idea and a subsequent book on ordinary--"the other"-- Greeks is virtually a caricature of his very American populist agrarianism; his writing on his family farm, which last I heard he still worked, is loaded with resentment. Steven Pressfield's right-wing novels about ancient Greece'll give you a better flavor of the mentality Hanson represents--one's devoted to that guy who'd surely drink latte if he were alive today, Alcibiades--than Hanson's scholarship.
Lisa Kazmier - 4/30/2005
Or attending any class you've taught. I just want to see him try to find the so-called radical leftist politics in my dissertation. Go luck, dude; you'll need it. BTW it's called "A Modern Lanscape: The British Way of Death in the Age of Cremation."
Michael Barnes Thomin - 4/30/2005
I find myself pondering the same questions when I walk down the nature trails on my campus. What is this place Mr. Horowitz speaks of... Am I blind and deaf to what is going on around me? Or is it just that Mr. Horowitzs’ eyes and ears are much more skilled than my own? Or maybe Mr. Horowitz's quest is plagued by tunnel vision and he sees only what he wants to see. And so the saga continues...
Chris Bray - 4/29/2005
You'd better hope that David Horowitz doesn't find out about that pirate flag, my friend.
Michael Charles Benson - 4/29/2005
I can not speak for the faculty and who they would or would not hire if they had the opportunity. I can say that his academic career is, to say the least, impressive and I think most any history department would benefit from his presence. Additionally Lenin and Fidel are not on display in the History Department, they are posters (intended to have some irony to them) in a particular TA office. Those are not the same things. My office has a pirate flag in it, yet we are not pirates.
I'm basically from California. I don't surf, but I also don't like Lenin. I'm a graduate student in UCLA, and before UCLA attended Reed College (noted for having a left-leaning student body). So yeah, it's possible.
Kurt Reiger - 4/29/2005
Yes! But professor Walicki is at Notre Dame. Would he be hired at UCLA? Also, professor Walicki lived under the communist system set in place by Lenin, so he has an almost visceral feel for Lenin. Could some Califonia beach dude with an interest in history do the same thing in a place where Lenin & Fidel look down on them from the walls? By the way, are there any pictures of Washington or Lincoln on the walls in the history department at UCLA? Thanks
Michael Charles Benson - 4/29/2005
If your empirical studies led you to conclude that Lenin was a mass murderer who set the stage for some of the greatest mass murder in world history, could you be hired and promoted?
Do you mean could a staunch anti-leninist have a career like this? Yes they can, so long as their research is good. Marxism and the Leap to the Kingdom of Freedom by the way is one of my favorite books precisely because it changed my mind about Lenin. If you are not interested in contrary opinions, academia is not the place for you.
Chris Bray - 4/28/2005
A few answers to this:
First, I came to academia in my thirties, and I have never yet encountered a workplace without politics. There are always minefields to negotiate; there's always a boss who doesn't agree with you about something. Being thick-skinned and diplomatic is part of working life. I don't have much patience with people in academia who burn and seethe because somebody said something they found disagreeable. None of us have a right to live in a bubble.
Second, I like and respect people without expecting them to agree with my politics. People come from different places, have different experiences, and believe in different things. I guess the short answer is that I'm not worried about working with people who believe different things than I believe. This is life.
Annnd, finally, if "there are some faculty who are more left wing idealogues than empiricists," then there are also more faculty who are empiricists rather than left wing idealogues.
I'm at a university and a department that has this, you know, reputation. And it's a pleasure to be here. I really just don't get the reputation thing at all. I having a good time.
Kurt Reiger - 4/28/2005
Thank you and Gonzalo Rodriguez for responding to my question above. I am glad to hear you use the word "empiricists" in discribing most of the faculty. However, your responses left me wondering.
Both you and Mr. Rodriguez seem to say that there are some faculty who are more left wing idealogues than empiricists. Why would those people ever acquiesce in hiring or promoting someone whose empirical studies led them in a more "conservative" direction?
For example, take the people who hung up the poster of Lenin (assuming the poster is not up there as a joke). If your empirical studies led you to conclude that Lenin was a mass murderer who set the stage for some of the greatest mass murder in world history, could you be hired and promoted? Why would the people who admire Lenin enough to hang his picture on the wall hire and promote someone like this? If your empirical studies led you to conclude that many in the West misunderstood or purposely misrepresented the brutal, authoritarian nature of Lenin, would you be hired and promoted? Again, why would people who post Lenin's picture want to work with you. Of course, if there were faculty hanging up Hitler's picture, perhaps they would balance out the Lenin lovers. But those people do not exist on the faculty (thankfully).
The same is true for Fidel and Che. If your empirical studies led you to conclude that Fidel's seat in government rested partailly on his ability to torture and murder tens of thousands of people, why would the people who hang up Fidel's picture hire and promote you?
And if you were a grad student wanting to get hired and promoted, would it not be much easier to just go along with the flow of the Lenin lovers?
Your anecdote about the MLA conference is funny, but if you are coming from places that think Lenin and Fidel are cool enough to be up on the wall, who are you to judge the Taliban? Would not it be easier to critique George Bush?
I realize these questions are not what your paper is about. I appriciate your thoughts. Thanks
Rob D. Priest - 4/28/2005
Have to concur. Regardless of all the nitpicking and debate, this is probably the best post on HNN I've read in a long time.
Michael Beatty - 4/28/2005
I'm astounded by Dr Johnson's assertion that "Since my comments referred to the department's 15 US history courses and not those in colonial history, [the hiring of Dr Craig Yirush] doesn't really address the department's imbalance." I simply don't understand your meaning.
How can the the history of the "early modern British Atlantic, church-state relations in colonial America, the question of Amerindian rights" NOT constitute American history? There is no way to exclude the British colonial territory that became the United States from any of those categories. Shame on disingenuity!
Chris Bray - 4/27/2005
One of the things I was trying to say in the essay that got all of these comment threads started is that change comes with each new generation of historians; I think some of the imbalance you've noted is the product of an academic trend, and that trends fade. My impression is that many people in my generation of grad students are turning back to political history, and are also returning to narrative and synthesis. Which doesn't mean that anyone is turning against social history, but that people will look to incorporate political history in social narratives, and vice-versa.
More than that, I think that some of these lines that have been drawn are a bit pointless. People in the past didn't turn to one another and decide to engage in political behavior from 2:00 to 3:00, then spend a couple of hours on social behavior; social and political values intertwine, and political choices reflect social values, and so on. (I can't imagine that this is all that controversial a statement.) So I think the choice between social and political history is really a false choice.
Last week, in my discussion sections, we worked our way through Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, looking at (among other things) the way that Douglass used discussion about sexual behavior to speak to Protestant values in the service of a political cause. And it led me into that popular grad student/teaching assistant fantasy about when I can come up with my own classes... My thought is that I could teach a course on the political and economic history of sexual behavior in colonial America and the U.S. -- this would be a big, broad survey course -- looking at the way the French used sexual relationships to cement trade relations in the colonial era, and the way slaveholders used sexual behavior as an economic activity, and so on, continuing into the 20th century with, for example, Eisenhower's executive order forbidding federal employment for homosexuals.
On the day that I begin to (knock on wood) teach that class, my sense is that it would look like non-traditional social history to someone standing outside the department and looking at the course listing. But at the end of the semester, students in the class would have encountered the history of the colonial economy, the political economy of slavery, the domestic politics of the Cold War, and so on. It's a class about sexual history that is also a class about political and economic history.
And I think that point can be made for many, many classes that appear to be non-traditional or outside someone's idea of the pedagogical mainstream. There's a great deal of handwringing these days about women's history, for example, as a symbol of a "balkanized" academy that doesn't teach the core events. But how would you teach suffrage, for example, without discussing constitutional history, or the history of Progressive Era politics? At least some of the much-decried balkanization or departure from the mainstream is, I think, more apparent than real.
Anyway, I hope all of that makes sense, because I'm not sure how clearly I just said it.
(And, btw, I think Craig Yirush also teaches on the early republic...)
Mike Crane - 4/27/2005
I've been in grad school for nearly a decade now, earning history degrees at two major universities, and my experiences largely mirror Chris Bray's. Horowitz seems to be missing a point about the one credit course he found objectionable: No one was forced to take it. I can't wait to see what spurious label attaches to my name without ever meeting me or reviewing my work.
Robert KC Johnson - 4/26/2005
I'm sorry if I wasn't clear--the clause that I used is "mainstream themes in diplomatic, political, or constitutional history," with "mainstream" modifying "diplomatic, political, and constitutional," not "history."
In theory, Lal's course could count as a political history course, while Ellen Dubois' inter-American gendered language course could be considered a diplomatic history course. Yet it would be very hard to view either one a "mainstream" course in diplomatic or political history. Dubois' course would be very much mainstream as a women's history class. I see little justification for Lal's course in any respect.
As for Yirush, he seems like a very interesting hire. Since my comments referred to the department's 15 US history courses and not those in colonial history, he doesn't really address the department's imbalance.
I agree completely with Michael Benson on ideology. I could care less if a History Department is all Democratic or all Republican, since there's no direct correlation between someone's party registration and how they should teach a course in, say, political or diplomatic history. I do care, however, when a department like UCLA's--which once enjoyed a strong reputation in political history and solid standings in US diplomatic and constitutional history--all but writes off the fields in its faculty. I'm not privy to the internal workings of the UCLA department, so perhaps they are actually addressing their imbalance in US historians. But I'm affaid that I don't see the fact that UCLA has a US intellectual historian on staff to balance its plethora of US social and cultural historians to reflect an appropriate balance for a first-rate History Department.
Chris Bray - 4/26/2005
The most recent hire (I think) in the U.S. field at UCLA's history department is Craig Yirush. Take a look at his faculty website:
"His research interests include the development of political ideas in the early modern British Atlantic, church-state relations in colonial America, the question of Amerindian rights in the first British Empire, and the connection between law and political theory in early modern Europe."
Pretty far out, yeah?
Chris Bray - 4/26/2005
I'm disappointed that you've singled out the same class that David Horowitz used to make his argument. I agree that the course description (as you've described it; I have not gone to look at the course website) is unimpressive and reflects a lack of balance and intellectual openness. I'll say again, though, that a "fiat lux" seminar is a one-credit, pass/no-pass course, while an undergraduate needs 160 credits to graduate; the seminar you've identified is 1/160th of a UCLA education.
You also write that, in the winter quarter, "only two classes were mainstream themes in diplomatic, political, or constitutional history." You've granted yourself the authority to declare classes in the "mainstream" or out of the "mainstream," and you've done it without defining this "mainstream" or arguing for its importance. It does seem to me -- although I'm guessing, because you haven't defined the term you use -- that you've decided to place all social and cultural history, and any course addressing a particular group's history (American Indian history or women's history, for example) outside the mainstream. That's a remarkable choice, made in a remarkably casual way. If a class is in women's history, is it inherently outside the mainstream? Is it inherently not a class with a political history component? (See if you can spot the problem with the following sentence: "Why are you talking about Indians -- don't you think politics is more important?")
The second point on the same topic is that students overwhelmingly engage with U.S. history in the big lecture courses; a fiat lux seminar has maybe 20 students, while the three-quarter American history survey has closer to 200, and the Civil War class enrolls 400 or more. (Note that this in on a campus with something like 30,000 students. My biggest concern about UCLA undergrads is not that they aren't getting a balanced picture of U.S. history, but that they aren't getting any picture of U.S. history at all.) For better or worse, most students who take U.S. history at UCLA are getting the topics that you have decided to define as "mainstream."
UCLA surely has some weak spots, and the department should surely work to fill them. The last I heard, the faculty in the U.S. field had identified a diplomatic historian as its highest priority for hiring. But, as Michael Benson has already said and said better, it's problematic at best to think that the presence of social history renders a department out-of-balance. I would really encourage you to explain precisely what you mean by "mainstream," and how you've decided who gets to stand inside that circle, if you want to make your argument stick.
Michael Charles Benson - 4/26/2005
In his opening phrase Horowitz condemns himself:
"If leftwingers like Chris Bray..."
How does Horowitz know that Chris Bray is a leftist? He does not. He simply assumed that Chris must be because--well--Chris disagrees with him.
This is in sum is the problem. Everyone one who disagrees must be a dirty, filthy, idiotic rightist or leftist depending on which brand of ideologue one is.
Michael Charles Benson - 4/26/2005
Robert KC Johnson:
It seems to me that you are making a different (and far more thoughtful) point than the polemics Bray is attacking. That is to say, you are arguing that the US field at UCLA does not have enough breadth in methodological approach, particularly that it focuses on social history rather than political history.
My problem is that by tacking on to a discussion about supposed leftist indoctrination, you appear to recapitulate what I consider to be the most impoverishing feature of the typical idiotic screaming about Marxists in the academy: the extent to which it posits all academic differences as a constant struggle between right and left, conservative and liberal.
Your point about social and political history strikes me as having something to do with political ideology, but ultimately to not be defined by it. It is possible to be a liberal political historian or a conservative social historian. Similarly it is possible to make arguments about the need for one or another kind of history that have little or nothing to do with political battles in the present. Frederick Jackson Turner after all could be described as a social historian. Yet it is difficult to imagine a historian mainly influenced by Turner describing himself or herself as a “leftist."
We should not cage ourselves in the prison of the often narrow, reductive, and shrill debates that too often characterize political discourse in this county (right and left).
As to your overall claims about the US field at UCLA, where I am a graduate student, I am not currently convinced. We are in the process of finding new faculty to address our weaknesses brought about by retirements. While we are strong in social history, we are also quite strong as a department in the more traditional field of intellectual history. I am not sure that your analysis is thorough enough to be convincing.
Robert KC Johnson - 4/26/2005
I've wrriten some on the US side of the UCLA History Department. I have little interest in whether all of its professors supported or opposed the Iraq war; but it certainly seems, in its US side, at least, that it's not exactly the most pedagogically balanced department around.
In the winter 2004 term, for instance, the department offered 15 courses in post-1865 US history, and most of the department's syllabi on the web. Two of the 15—-offerings on 20th century American foreign relations and the historical effects of Watergate—-addressed mainstream themes in diplomatic, political, or constitutional history; neither course, ironically, was taught by a full-time member of the department. The department’s survey had readings heavily weighted toward social history, while it also featured a gender history course masquerading as an offering in inter-American relations. Ten others were social or cultural history offerings, culminating with a course called “Introduction to Funk Studies.”
The last post-1865 US history course, entitled “Re-reading Politics in America: Democracy Before and After 9-11,” featured a syllabus with language that many would consider propagandistic rather than academic: “Though many commentators have unthinkingly rehearsed the cliché that after 9/11 all is changed,” Professor Vinay Lal contended, “nothing has changed, insofar as the US remains on course in exercising its ruthless dominance over the rest of the world.” As a model for the required presentation, Lal suggested that students look into “what the election to California’s governorship of a movie star who has been charged by a dozen women with sexual molestation, drives perhaps the most environmentally unfriendly vehicle in the world, and appeared not to have a single idea about governance says about American ‘democracy.’” Other recommended topics included corporate ownership of the media, the rise of Fox News; the film “Bowling in Columbine”; the “assault on civil liberties”; the “indefinite detention of hundreds of Muslims without any accountability to notions of justice”; or “thousands of such phenomena.”
The fact that UCLA has two grad students writing US history dissertations that could be considered "traditional" doesn't strike me as particularly relevant to the broader problem of a one-sidedness in its course offerings.
Charles Edward Heisler - 4/26/2005
"I suggest Mr. Horowitz would be better employed seeking out in the economics departments, the business schools, the law schools, pharmacy schools, medical schools, in the accounting departments and management departments, in the international relations schools, in the behavioral and physical sciences programs -- evidence of professors teaching the kind of invidious greed which has given us the climate of rank corruption we have in the nation today."
Mr. Kafka, the above is an appropriate mouthful and I appreciate you reminding all of a precise problem that may well have negatively affected more lives around the world than all the leftist babble in the Liberal Arts---the apparent inability or neglect of schools of business to instruct their students in basic business ethics. All of us have been and continue to be impacted by this negligence.
Put into perspective, the rantings of Ward Churchill seem pale indeed to the damage done by the graduates of our most celebrated schools of accounting and business. Well said.
Gonzalo Rodriguez - 4/26/2005
I believe I can answer for Chris. Yes, the vast majority of the professors hate Bush, and will find ways to smugly sneer at him and anyone who supports him whenever they can. In fact, they will not even suspect that anyone within earshot could possibly disagree; it will be taken on faith that anybody around is part of the club. In those rare occasions when they are faced with a genuine conservative (such as a Christian student), those experiences will be laughed at casually after the fact, as a sort of "comes with the job!" mentality. And yes, the halls, bulletin boards, and doorways of Bunche hall at UCLA are filled with posters agitating for left-wing action (Not in Our Name, End Zionism Now!, etc.)
But this is not the thrust of Mr. Bray's article. He does not dispute the indisputable: that the vast majority of professors are politically left-leaning. His point is that critics like Horowitz have zealously clouded the issue by singling out pedagogy-as-political-indoctrination here and there and cast them as the norm. He supports his argument by demonstrating that old-fashioned scholarship still exists. To challenge Mr. Bray, you need to argue that professors, left-wing or no, are forcing their views upon students, or give proof that conservative scholars are being denied tenure for thought-crime (there is, I think, evidence of both).
I do feel students are underserved by a lack of genuine political debate on campus, but it is in no way a massive crisis meriting huge legislation. I also notice that the more a professor gives political sermons in class, the more the students tend to tune them out or react more skeptically; as such, I think we give the normal intelligence of the average student far too little credit. Those professors who think their job is to indoctrinate rather than educate (and will tell you so in private) usually collect a small band of sophomoric student disciples, and they get together and hold attention-getting pep rallies and "calls to action" together, but we should never mistake loudness for actual influence.
Paul William Harvey - 4/26/2005
The point of this discussion so far: Horowitz is a loudmouth who doesn't know what he's talking about; instead of paying attention to evidence from those who know what they're talking about, like the UCLA people above, he just makes up stuff that fits his own view -- anyone who's read the recent book ON BULLSHIT will recognize this game.
So why does anyone pay attention to him? Oh, I forgot, it's because he's managed to hijack the political process regarding higher education in many states. Last year in Colorado, he managed to do this. As it happens, in Colorado we are rapidly heading towards a situation that will completely and totally defund public higher education -- zero dollars for higher education by about a decade from now. We're hoping a state ballot referendum will address the situation this fall, but that's hardly for sure. Meanwhile, Horowitz flies in last year, hijacks the entire discussion, and suddenly the legislature is obsessed now with whether some student someplace or other heard something that hurt their feelings. Never mind that the entire higher education funding mechanism is in the process of crashing to the ground, and crashing the hopes of lots of young people in the process.
Meanwhile, I have to get ready to teach my course in THEORY AND METHODS OF HISTORY. Tomorrow morning, we'll be dealing with teaching students to use the active voice in sentences more effectively. Wow, is that radical or what?
Chris Bray - 4/26/2005
A proviso: There are many dozens of history professors, and more than 200 grad students, in the UCLA history department. I know five or six or the former, and a dozen of the latter, pretty well. So I'll be doing a whole lot of guessing, but here goes:
Probably very, very few supported the Iraq war, sharing with the writers at (for example) American Conservative magazine a broad set of concerns about overreach and unintended consequences. Fewer probably objected to the war in Afghanistan.
There surely have been some silly academic politics around this topic; my favorite piece on the theme ran in the Boston Globe a couple of years ago: At the last pre-invasion MLA conference, one presenter after another gave papers on the Taliban, and argued that U.S. indifference to the plight of women in Afghanistan was proof of American indifference to the racial other; at the first MLA conference after the U.S. invasion on Afghanistan, everybody's paper was on the pointless and inappropriate American invasion of a sovereign nation that should have been left alone.
The point is not that there are never any silly politics in academia. I didn't go straight to grad school, and I've encountered silly politics in the army and in corporate jobs; people say silly things about politics. The point I try to make in this piece is that if you look at course listings, syllabi, and research projects, you can see very clearly (I think) that the university offers a broad menu; the faculty lounge rant doesn't show up in most (not all) classrooms.
As for the posters, yeah: There are posters of Che and Fidel. There's a poster of Lenin in the teaching assistant office I share with many other people.
There's also a disco ball, if you know what I'm saying.
The point of this essay, which hasn't been reflected in any of the comments so far, is that times change. Once William Dunning's acolytes ruled the academy; then they vanished. Ditto the Beardians, and etc. A significant portion of grad school is dedicated to discussing the "march of schools" -- which is a big topic, since so many of them have marched right on by and into the sunset. Everyone has their time on the stage; everyone eventually gives way to someone else. Worrying about Marxists in the academy is, in 2005, like worrying about President Carter.
Again, look at syllabi and course offerings, at what students actually hear in the classroom. Whatever else they are, most historians at UCLA are empiricists.
Gonzalo Rodriguez - 4/26/2005
Well said. As a current graduate student and as what some might label "conservative," I have to say you have voiced the most sane opinion in this thread. I think the problem is not that Horowitz doesn't have a point -- he does...in the examples he chooses to highlight. Those ideologues who romanticize their own angst-ridden adolescence and still teach like it's 1972 are easy targets, mostly because they're so loud. But we should not forget the legions of dilligent, respectable, and professional scholars who are caught in the crossfire of this often ridiculous debate.
Also, I'd like to second your statement that the postmodernists are seen as "quaint." This is absolutely true -- and it could not have been any different. Postmodernism entices its adherents to lose themselves in an esoteric discussion with themselves; it eats away at its own foundations without creating new ones. Such self-negating anti-principles were destined to whither away, as it were, "by the scorching glance of too much irony" (to paraphrase John Gray). Postmodernism was nurtured in a very specific politico-social environment; as the dinosaurs continue to retire, today's scholarly production tends to be much more eclectic and open-minded.
Good luck with Henry Adams.
Linus Kafka - 4/25/2005
As a grad student in the UCLA History Department and a person mentioned in Chris Bray's piece, I have a few comments.
I am troubled by Mr. Horowitz's characterization of the UCLA History Department as dominated by Marxists, discredited or not. As a student in the department "on the ground," so to speak, I have to disagree with him. The History Department at UCLA is a very big tent, as it should be.
Moreover, I know about ideological struggles and "domination" within history departments from personal experience. When I first attended graduate school when George H.W.Bush was still president, there indeed did seem to be an ideological domination by post-modern scholars which flustered me (post-modernists who attacked the Marxists, no less! For shame!). It drove me out of grad school altogether. And guess what? At that time my research was grounded in the kind of ethnic and class-based identity politics that Mr. Horowitz might believe would make me a rank and file Marxist scholar, which I wasn't.
The terrain now is much different. It seems that Mr. Horowitz is like one of those island castaways who still believes that the "Great War" is still going on. My experience after carefully researching graduate history programs all over the country (before choosing "radical" UCLA) was that most of the ideological theorization that Mr. Horowitz attacks today is considered a bit quaint among academics in history departments.
So here I am today, in a department supposedly "dominated" by Marxists. Me, a former prosecutor, a Zionist (!), a supporter of the death penalty, who, as the leader of all the Graduate Teaching Assistants in the department (the largest in the nation), shares with them a sense of gratitude if undergraduates can write a logical argument regardless of political orientation. What has been the effect of this "domination?" Well, I am doing my research on Henry Adams, a white, male, elite, conservative intellectual concerned about the fundamental characteristics of this nation. And at every step of the way I have been encouraged, supported, and counseled, not just by the members of my committee but by a broad representation of history department faculty.
Claiming that there is some vast left-wing academic conspiracy might make good press, but it just seems so irrelevant, especially at UCLA. I suggest Mr. Horowitz would be better employed seeking out in the economics departments, the business schools, the law schools, pharmacy schools, medical schools, in the accounting departments and management departments, in the international relations schools, in the behavioral and physical sciences programs -- evidence of professors teaching the kind of invidious greed which has given us the climate of rank corruption we have in the nation today.
Or he could hunt down some more Marxists collecting dust in libraries.
Also: I know Chris Bray and Chris Bray is no "leftwinger."
N. Friedman - 4/25/2005
That is a good point. Thank you. In other words, the course merely shows that the teacher is an ideologue. Point taken.
Kurt Reiger - 4/25/2005
Since you are at UCLA, can you discuss the general attitude among professors and grad students? What percentage, would you guess, supported the Iraq war? What percentage supported the Afganistan war? What percentage voted for Bush, Kerry or Nader? What percentage voted for Arnold as your governor? Also, what is the general look of the history department offices? Are there posters of Che and Fidel and Clarence Thomas and the Pope? Thanks.
Chris Bray - 4/25/2005
And what David Horowitz doesn't mention is that a "Fiat Lux" seminar is a one-credit, non-recurring special seminar (most courses at UCLA are 4 or 5 credit courses).
His best shot is a one-year-old, non-recurring, one-credit course.
Jonathan Dresner - 4/25/2005
Actually, depending on the context and specific systems in place, faculty can, within limits, self-approve courses. Particularly non-recurring courses, like Lal's cited above, special topics courses, etc. (x98 and x99 we call them here, after the numeric suffix which designates them) are often not approved by anyone but the instructor and either the department (which usually gives a free hand with special topics courses, because they want the same courtesy) or department chair (who has too much paperwork to vet individual courses).
For that matter, even university curriculum committees, of which I am a member, often have very limited authority to challenge course content.
N. Friedman - 4/25/2005
On point one: I trust that a professor cannot merely self-approve a course. If so, the existence of such a course speaks to the calibre of the professor involved as well as to those in the school who granted permission to teach the course and to those in the department who said nothing about the appearance of the course.
On point two: take the matter up with Mr. Horowitz, not me. I am not one of his devotees. On the other hand, I note that pedagogy is an important thing. Obviously, a department which allowed the noted course does not understand that to be the case. Which is why I said that Horowitz only needs to be a little bit correct to be correct. You, by contrast, have to be mostly correct.
Chris Bray - 4/25/2005
I agree in principle, but maybe someone should tell Hanson about that cheap-shot-at-other-people's-academic-credentials thing. The man is very fond of the phrase "latte-sipping cultural elites."
Chris Bray - 4/25/2005
I've thought about it, as ordered: If the presence of a single course that you find objectionable negates the significance of dozens and dozens of courses that you do not find objectionable, then we're not going to agree.
On a positive note, I think you've identified the standard that may permit Horowitz to sustain his career: "Horowitz only needs to be a little bit correct to have said something important." He should use that one on the masthead of his "magazine."
N. Friedman - 4/25/2005
No offense but you are wrong.
Yes, as you say, the course is one of many and singling out one course is unfair. And, Horowitz does appear to be hunting for evidence to back his theory.
That said, Horowitz is correct that a course with the noted catalogue description is not a serious course - no matter what political position one holds - but the equivalent of a church revival meeting for the faithful. And Horowitz is correct that the very appearance of such a course on a school's catalogue suggests that an academic department that has difficulty distinguishing pedagogy from indoctrination.
One does not have to agree with Horowitz's politics - and I do not - to realize how dangerous indoctrination is to the education process. Thus, Horowitz only needs to be a little bit correct to have said something important. You need to be substantially correct especially in view of the evidence he has cited. You, unfortunately, are not sufficiently correct as the piece of evidence he has uncovered is rather telling.
In the law, there is a saying: Res Ipsa Loquitur. ("The Thing Speaks For Itself"). The noted course raises that exact legal doctrine!!!
Think about it.
Chris Bray - 4/25/2005
David Horowitz offers, as evidence of "ideological indoctrination," ONE COURSE. And it's from LAST YEAR.
I offer, as evidence, the listing of dozens and dozens of courses from THIS QUARTER, which Horowitz id evidently unable to discuss at all.
This man is pathetic. His agenda is made perfectly clear in this post: "The mere fact that a description like this could appear in a college catalogue – let alone the catalogue of one of America’s premier universities – is evidence of the extensive corruption of the university curriculum by radical ideologues who have debased the academic classroom and turned it into a platform for political agendas."
He doesn't object to prevailing imbalance; he objects to the presence of a single course that he finds objectionable.
Jim Williams - 4/25/2005
I don't want to convert your fight to a brawl or a riot, and I don't agree with many of Victor Hanson's idiosyncratic opinions. However, as a Greek historian I must say that Hanson is one of the top (arguably, the top one) military historians of ancient Greece in the entire world. That doesn't mean that we should accept whatever he writes about the modern world as "the inerrant Word of God." It just means that we shouldn't take cheap shots at his academic credentials.
david horowitz - 4/25/2005
If leftwingers like Chris Bray want to pretend that black is white and up is down and that they've had anything but an ideological training in a department like UCLA's history faculty which has no conservatives at my last count and is dominated by various strains of the discredited Marxist fantasy that's their privilege.
Here is a course description that appeared in last year’s UCLA online catalogue. The course in question is the “Fiat Lux Seminar: Honors Collegium 98.” The seminar incorporates “History 19,” and “Public Policy 1284.”
The Fiat Lux Seminar is subtitled “Re-Reading Democracy in America: Politics Before and After 9/11.” It is taught by Professor Vinay Lal, a member of the UCLA History Department. According to the catalogue, there are “two requirements” for students to complete the course -- a paper on one of the two class texts and an in-class presentation. Here is how the presentation is described in the UCLA catalogue:
“Requirements: … Each student will also do a succinct class presentation of no more than ten minutes accompanied by a handout (1 pg.). In this presentation, the student will draw upon some aspect of American political, cultural, or social life which has a bearing on the subject matter of the course. For example, a presentation might focus on what the election to California’s governorship of a movie star who has been charged by a dozen women with sexual molestation, drives perhaps the most environmentally unfriendly vehicle in the world, and appeared not to have a single idea about governance says about American “democracy.” Other presentations can focus on corporate ownership of the media, the rise of Fox News, the MTA and grocery chain strikes in Los Angeles, the trade union movements, the presence of African-Americans and Latinos in the US army, the film “Bowling in (sic) Columbine”, the assault on civil liberties, the indefinite detention of hundreds of Muslims without any accountability to notions of justice, or thousands of such phenomena.”
The mere fact that a description like this could appear in a college catalogue – let alone the catalogue of one of America’s premier universities – is evidence of the extensive corruption of the university curriculum by radical ideologues who have debased the academic classroom and turned it into a platform for political agendas. In passing it should be noted that, as governor, Schwarzenegger has the highest approval ratings of any governor in the history of the state. This course description is political argument, which could not be more remote from any pedagogical enterprise or scholarly inquiry. It will not surprise anyone that the text assigned for the Fiat Lux Seminar is Vietnam and Other American Fantasies by H. Bruce Franklin, a notorious radical who in the past has edited (and provided a favorable introduction for) a collection of writings by Joseph Stalin. In the Seventies, Franklin was head of a violent radical group called “Venceremos,” whose activities led to his being fired by Stanford University, an act of academic wisdom, which could not be repeated today.
Professor Lal explains the importance of Franklin’s text in this way: “Though many commentators have unthinkingly rehearsed the cliche that after 9/11 all is changed, our other principal text comes from one of the most respected scholars of American history [Franklin is in fact a Professor of English Literature}, whose relatively recent inquiry into the meaning of the Vietnam war in American life suggests that nothing has changed, insofar as the US remains on course in exercising its ruthless dominance over the rest of the world.” [Emphasis added.]
There is not the slightest indication that this course will present students with alternative viewpoints to this jihadist perspective, or that it will open minds to the complex realities of American democracy. This is a course designed to draw one ideological conclusion, and to indoctrinate students in an extreme leftwing point of view.
Neil Anthony Bailey - 4/25/2005
Anyone know that phrase "never discuss politics or religion with freinds if you want to keep them"? I don't think it has anything to do with this whatsoever.
But anyway, Chris, I really enjoyed your argument. As a second year A level student in the UK, it's interesting to see how personal politics can affect the quality of people's higher education experiences.
Chris Bray - 4/25/2005
Chris Bray - 4/25/2005
Looks like I screwed up the links in the story, so let me offer this instead: If you question the mild premise that history departments in contemporary universities offer a wide variety of coursework and viewpoints, and are not wholly dominated by identity group "studies," then look at the course offerings (and a syllabus or two, which you can view in full by clicking on the course title) for the current quarter at UCLA:
But be warned, if you have little patience for political correctness: You will encounter such radical-left course titles as "Introduction to Western Civilization," "Enlightenment: How We Got to Be Modern," and "Jesus of Nazareth in Historical Research." Makes shivers run down many a spine, I know.
You can also browse through dissertations in progress at dozens of universities:
Look at the classes that academic historians are actually teaching, the books they're actually assigning, and dissertations they're actually writing. The facts speak for themselves, and demonstrate the silliness and emptiness of the political ranting.
Charles Edward Heisler - 4/25/2005
"About Hanson: I admit that my hackles go up when I talk about him, in large part because of the way he habitually talks about the rest of the academy. His tone is usually ugly, and his charges usually overstated; he carefully overlooks good scholarship to turn everybody into a polemicist."
Odd that you would mention the above about an academic when I have the exact same feelings about most academics when they discuss the United States relative to the rest of the world and the current President.
Chris Bray - 4/25/2005
No Hayekians that I'm aware of -- but it doesn't seem that there are many Hayekians in conservative circles, these days, given the argument that the U.S. can, by bold state action, bring democracy to the world. The statist/anti-statist argument seems to have jumped the shark.
This really excellent book is an argument against the robber baron thesis, and just generally a pleasure to read.
About Hanson: I admit that my hackles go up when I talk about him, in large part because of the way he habitually talks about the rest of the academy. His tone is usually ugly, and his charges usually overstated; he carefully overlooks good scholarship to turn everybody into a polemicist. In that blog post you referred to, I quote Hanson's description of the contemporary academy. I won't bother to quote the very same thing again, but it's worth reading if you haven't. Long story short, he smears and slanders, ignores good scholarship and good teaching, and expects respect. I have a problem with that, yes.
Grant W Jones - 4/25/2005
I was not arguing quantity, nor have those that have given Hanson's books positive reviews, particularly his books on ancient Greek history.
Grant W Jones - 4/25/2005
I'm sure it hasn't occurred to you that your free use of personal invective is evidence for the position you are attempting to ridicule and dismiss. You also might try reading what I wrote. I was not engaging in "the usual political attacks on the academy." I was pointing out your lack of respect for your betters. Or is an "attack" upon you, an "attack" upon the academy?
Your "single word" was an attack upon a lifetime of scholarly work by Hanson. Why? Because, you don't like his views on the situation of the modern academy.
Thanks for the tip on Lamoreaux, are there any of her works that are generally availble? I'm glad to hear that the "robber baron" thesis is no longer in vogue. But, "how different?" Are there any "Hayekians" or Austrians around? Just curious. I'm the rare "wingnut" who doesn't know everything, never having attended grad school, you know.
Chris Bray - 4/25/2005
The fact that Hanson knocks out a new book once a year isn't much of an argument for the quality of his work as a historian.
Chris Bray - 4/25/2005
Brace yourself: There is no standard interpretation of the Industrial Revolution at UCLA. There are many different historians there, who have different views. Speaking of reading some books, try reading the scholarship of Naomi Lamoreaux, an economic historian at UCLA. You would probably be surprised by what you read. Of course you won't bother, because you already know everything.
I enjoy the fact that you've seized on a single word in a single blog post to allow yourself to ignore everything else that I've written. Your comments here neatly typify the laziness and stupidity of the usual political attacks on the academy. Seethe on, wingnut.
Grant W Jones - 4/25/2005
So, Hanson is an "alleged historian," as you state at your blog, because his views of the academy, where he thought for twenty odd years, don't jibe with yours? Cute, in a sophomoric way.
Try reading some books:
And we all know how the Hoover is filled with "right-wing" hacks, maybe some unknown UCLA grad students would deign to join the Institute and help them with that problem.
As for "politized," what is the standard interpretation of the Industrial Revolution in the UCLA history department?
henry tyrone slothrop - 4/24/2005
Enjoyable read. I have often thought that there exists an entirely huge chasm between what the press and pundits trumpet and the reality of any of the situations causing their excitement. Your posting confirms my belief.
- Ken Burns on Colbert to promote his new documentary, "The Address"
- UC Santa Barbara History Department featuring a series on the Great Society at 50
- Historians are trying to recover censored texts from World War I poets
- Diane Ravitch blasts the NYT for failing to understand the controversy over Common Core
- Mormon history professors debate atheists in bid to foster greater understanding