Thursday, September 10, 2009

Camille Paglia on the American left

Lawrence Auster has already highlighted the recent Salon article by Camille Paglia, but it's interesting enough to have a second go at here.

Camille Paglia is a left-wing feminist intellectual. She is not, though, an orthodox member of the left - she does sometimes set herself outside of the intellectual mainstream.

In her Salon article, Camille Paglia is critical of the American Democrats for being out of touch with grassroots feeling on the healthcare issue. She asks tellingly:

Why has the Democratic Party become so arrogantly detached from ordinary Americans? Though they claim to speak for the poor and dispossessed, Democrats have increasingly become the party of an upper-middle-class professional elite, top-heavy with journalists, academics and lawyers ...


This is a significant point. Left-liberals like to imagine themselves as being dissenting outsiders battling a privileged establishment. The reality is that left-liberals themselves form an entrenched wing of the political establishment. The self-image is bogus.

That the left forms a political establishment on campus is illustrated by the experiences of Dan Lawton. He is an American university student who thought it a bit one-sided that only 2 out of 111 academics at the University of Oregon were Republican voters. He wrote a column for the student paper suggesting that the university attempt to attract a few right-wing professors:

What I didn't realize is that journalism that examined the dominance of liberal ideas on campus would be addressed with hostility.

A professor who confronted me declared that he was "personally offended" by my column ... I decided to speak with him in person in the hope of finding common ground.

He was eager to chat, and after five minutes our dialogue bloomed into a lively discussion. As we hammered away at the issue, one of his colleagues with whom he shared an office grew visibly agitated. Then, while I was in mid-sentence, she exploded.

"You think you're so [expletive] cute with your little column," she told me. "I read your piece and all you want is attention. You're just like Bill O'Reilly. You just want to get up on your [expletive] soapbox and have people look at you."

... She quickly grew so emotional that she had to leave the room. But before she departed, she stood over me and screamed ...

Students should never come under personal attack from faculty members for straying from the party line. The fact that they do shows how easily political partisanship can corrupt the elements of higher education that should be valued the most.


Camille Paglia also points out that left-liberals typically value individual autonomy as the highest good whilst supporting the growth of an intrusive, coercive state authority:

Weirdly, given their worship of highly individualistic, secularized self-actualization, such professionals are as a whole amazingly credulous these days about big-government solutions to every social problem. They see no danger in expanding government authority and intrusive, wasteful bureaucracy.


And what about the liberal idea that we should be radically self-determining, writing our own script, following our own life path etc. Camille Paglia doesn't see it happening in practice:

But affluent middle-class Democrats now seem to be complacently servile toward authority and automatically believe everything party leaders tell them. Why? Is it because the new professional class is a glossy product of generically institutionalized learning? Independent thought and logical analysis of argument are no longer taught. Elite education in the U.S. has become a frenetic assembly line of competitive college application to schools where ideological brainwashing is so pandemic that it's invisible. The top schools, from the Ivy League on down, promote "critical thinking," which sounds good but is in fact just a style of rote regurgitation of hackneyed approved terms ("racism, sexism, homophobia") when confronted with any social issue. The Democratic brain has been marinating so long in those clich├ęs that it's positively pickled.


Camille Paglia has also noticed the left-liberal failure to think deeply about the real world consequences of social policy:

By a proportion of something like 10-to-1, negative articles by conservatives were vastly more detailed, specific and practical about the proposals than were supportive articles by Democrats, which often made gestures rather than arguments and brimmed with emotion and sneers. There was a glaring inability in most Democratic commentary to think ahead and forecast what would or could be the actual snarled consequences -- in terms of delays, denial of services, errors, miscommunications and gross invasions of privacy -- of a massive single-payer overhaul of the healthcare system in a nation as large and populous as ours. It was as if Democrats live in a utopian dream world, divorced from the daily demands and realities of organization and management.


Finally, I thought there was something to this observation by Camille Paglia:

If the left is an incoherent shambles in the U.S., it's partly because the visionaries lost their bearings on drugs, and only the myopic apparatchiks and feather-preening bourgeois liberals are left.

31 comments:

  1. This is the worst post you have made since I started reading your stuff. Paglia is a smart cookie but also a chronic blow-hard. The DEMs long ago completely trumped the REPs on health care policy arguments. cf Arrow's theory and EU practice.

    The REPs politics on this issue - death panels, socialism and "Hands off Medicare" - has been uniformly abominable.

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  2. Jack, the point of the post wasn't to compare Republican and Democrat health care policies.

    I was interested that a lifelong leftist like Camille Paglia had observed some of the same general defects in left-liberalism that I have as a conservative.

    She picked up the disconnect between the self-image so many left-liberals have of being dissenting outsiders when they really represent one wing of the political establishment.

    She picked up (but didn't explain) the apparent contradiction that a liberal politics is creating an ever larger and more intrusive state authority when liberals supposedly wish to maximise individual autonomy and self-determination.

    She picked up on the lack of interest liberals often show in real world consequences of social policy.

    (I had a discussion with a liberal relative recently about the effect that social welfare might have on men's commitment to work. She was surprised, I think, that the issue was even raised. She answered, as liberals so often do, hopefully and without evidence, that there would be no negative effect.)

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  3. "Independent thought and logical analysis of argument are no longer taught. Elite education in the U.S. has become a frenetic assembly line of competitive college application to schools where ideological brainwashing is so pandemic that it's invisible."

    But where would the left be without that? The "education" sectors are like their church. What's their word for right wing guys again? Provocateurs.

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  4. I think this post, a bit like the Americans themselves, conflates 'leftism' and 'liberalism'. The latter is a highly individualistic political philosophy, as Paglia rightly points out. It does serve elites more than ordinary people, but in this, it is no different to conservatism. There have been leftist critiques of liberalism since the time of Marx and Bakunin, so I don't think we ought to confuse the two.

    The claims of bias in the education sector are also risible. In Australia, that furphy has been peddled by the right for some time, and has no evidence to support it. Secondly, in the US, you have lunatics and professional smearers like Horowitz doing their best to silence any academic who dares to criticise US foreign policy, for instance.

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  5. I’ll admit I don’t know much about the subject but it’s my impression that from the days of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent and the McKinley assassination up until the sixties that anarchism was considered a left-wing philosophy. However, modern liberals will call conservatives simpletons for their distrust of the state, or even accuse them of inciting terrorist violence by voicing that distrust. (I’ve always thought it odd too that they will in the same breathe calls conservatives fascists and brownshirts, two terms I think people associate with increased state power.) When did the change occur?

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  6. Its always been my experience that the 'professional' cadre respond with vitriol to any rational discussion that might undermine their divine dispensation.

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  7. Its really time to expose the left wing violence and intimidation on campuses.

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  8. Hey THR get your arse back to marxist land!

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  9. Hey THR get your arse back to marxist land!

    Hey redkiller, get your arse into a library and learn some arguments before embarrassing yourself before your conservative brethren.

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  10. THR, are you really denying that there is a left-wing bias amongst academics on campus? I would have thought it obvious that there was, but if you want evidence then what about the statistic mentioned in my post that out of 111 registered voters at the University of Oregon only two were Republicans.

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  11. THR, are you really denying that there is a left-wing bias amongst academics on campus? I would have thought it obvious that there was, but if you want evidence then what about the statistic mentioned in my post that out of 111 registered voters at the University of Oregon only two were Republicans.

    Obviously, I'm more familiar with Australia than the US. There was a study on this earlier this year, focusing on Australian unis, and no evidence of left-wing bias was found. As far as the US goes, we know that there are characters like the one I mentioned earlier attempting to censor critical voices (many of whom are not even particularly leftist). Does anybody have any evidence at all that uni students here are learning 'left wing' physics, medicine, economics, etc?

    And to clarify, there is a reasonable distinction to be made between many leftie viewpoints and liberalism.

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  12. Thanks for noting this. I skimmed the VFR entry and missed the "positively pickled" Democrat brain. Good article.

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  13. THR, I am a commerce student. We certainly learn left-wing economics, hence the preponderance of discredited Keynesian theory and models without any scope to consider alternative schools of thought.
    You must be delusional or, have never attended university, if you remain in denial about the bias and persecution one faces as a conservative on campus.

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  14. Anything with the words "critical" or "comparative" in the title is a left wing course. More obviously anything with the word "gender" or "environmental".

    There is no shortage of course like this at uni. Not just Arts degrees either, in Law too. The legal profession demands uni's teach staple law courses, torts, contracts, criminal etc so the scope for wonderful “electives” with cool titles, such as "Special Law Elective 1: Animals and the Law" are fairly limited. Nonetheless there's room for left wing interpretations of existing courses (sorry if I mix the terms left and liberal occasionally).

    For instance we can hear sustained arguments against traditional tort law which involves determining negligence and fault in favour of no fault (and consequently no personal responsibility) payouts for personal injuries.

    We can hear about how contract and commercial law disadvantages the poor. How our legal system is not much more than a prop for capitalism. How the legal system marginalizes aboriginals. How "reasonable standards" tests based on objectivity disadvantage minorities and women. How the adversarial system is inferior to "communal" legal systems such as mediation. How patent law disenfranchises African nations. How criminal law is about punishment when it should be about helping the poor and psychologically disturbed. How our "deterrence" system of jailing criminals doesn't work. Precedent and certainty should take a back seat to helping the marginalised. We need more government regulation. We need more judicial freedom. We need a bill of rights. International law is our saviour and Bush and Howard are war criminals. How we need to change, change, change, on and on and on.

    NONE of this is up for debate. There is a hush in the lecture hall when anyone questions the lecturer.

    Of course there are honest left wing lecturers who are willing to have open debates, listen to criticisms from all sides, explain their ideas rather than back them with the force of authority and righteousness, requiring total obedience. They're not all zealots but... Are there conservative lectures too? What do you think?

    Some of this is just interesting, broadens your mind etc. Its all one way traffic though.

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  15. Here's a Senate report from last year which investigated this very issue. It was composed of members from all parties, and found no bias, but did suggest that the Young Libs and other stooges were trying to erode academic freedom:

    http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/eet_ctte/academic_freedom/report/report.pdf

    To say that a course with the word 'critical' is biased and left-wing is tantamount to saying that reason itself is leftwing. It's hardly 'bias' if a uni doesn't represent the lies of a Piers Akerman, for instance, or give equal time to fringe crackpot positions.

    As far as economics goes - many unis that I know of prefer the (right-leaning) neoclassical model. Even if Keynes is taught, it isn't necessarily evidence of systematic bias, given that Keynes was one of the last century's most influential economists, and his theories have been resurgent in the past 12 months. Real evidence of bias would be somthing like conservative views being marked down irrespective of their logic and evidentiary basis. There's no evidence that something like that is occurring, except perhaps in rare and isolated instances.

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  16. Incidentally, if you don't like the course content on offer, you can always do the good right wing capitalist thing and take your custom elsewhere. Surely there must be a demand for conservative courses, if there are so many students who are supposedly being marginalised.

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  17. There's no reason why a "critical" course, such as "Feminist and critical theory" should be left wing, it could be right or neutral, it just is. The critical bit just gives you a heads up before you spend 2 weeks doing it. Like there's no reason on the face of it why "Refugee law" should be pro refugee, "climate law" should be pro environment, "Health law, bioethics and human rights" should be anti science anti patent etc. They just are!

    I'll let my feet do the walking should I and change unis? For more of the same in the next one? Change countries too?

    The conservatives in the class who consciously hate it are a minority. A larger minority "dig" it. The overwhelming majority tune out the politics completely, nod along politely and do courses solely to help get a job. The politics are just something to be suffered through (but of course it leaves its mark which is why its put in). So in the choice between one of the electives I mentioned and a course like "Takeovers and securities industries law" people vote overwhelming for the latter. That doesn't stop the uni putting out left wing courses that maybe only 20 people will enrol in, like gender law or something. 20 compared to over 300 for a "mainstream" law course. There's only so many courses the uni can offer so the fact that it puts out courses people don't want is itself an indication of bullshit bias.

    But aren't they a uni? Supposed to be on the cutting edge, challenge thoughts? Like I said its all left wing. Uni's have always been left wing I'm told. Great lets surrender all higher education to the left. Oh whoops according to the senate report it isn’t happening.

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  18. I can't believe you used "Piers Ackerman" and "fringe crackpot opinions" in the same sentence. So half the political spectrum should be abandoned so we can examine the varying degrees of left wing thought? I thought we weren't biased here.

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  19. THR, if you don't think there is left-wing bias on US campuses, then either (a) you are utterly ignorant, or (b) you're such a leftist yourself you can't see the bias because you think leftist views are "normal". I suspect (b) is the case, based on what you've said in this comment thread. (Oh poor fish, who cannot see the water.)

    in the US, you have lunatics and professional smearers like Horowitz doing their best to silence any academic who dares to criticise US foreign policy,

    Balderdash. And based on the evidence of massive academic criticism of US foreign policy, such smear efforts, if they actually exist, are comically ineffective.

    Incidentally, if you don't like the course content on offer, you can always do the good right wing capitalist thing and take your custom elsewhere. Surely there must be a demand for conservative courses, if there are so many students who are supposedly being marginalised.

    Too bad the leftist stranglehold on academic hiring and promotion ensures that the university system is a sterile intellectual monoculture, and no such alternatives exist.

    The demand for alternatives most certainly exists. The Left is determined to prevent students from hearing any other viewpoint besides inane Leftist dogma.

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  20. Sorry kids, but merely being exposed to an opinion you dislike is not 'bias'. Being discriminated against for your politics, or marked down for same, is bias, and all unis have avenues for complaint if this occurs. I trust you've raised issues of bias with
    the relvant uni authorities?

    And no, 'gender law' is no more inherently 'liberal' or 'left' than study of old-school humanaties (like theology, or classical studies) is inherently conservative. If you think that gender law exoses you to some crackpot opinions, why not try to refute them, instead of sniping from the sidelines?

    We're still yet to see any evidence of bias ni Australian unis from anybody here. We've seen that a bipartisan study into the matter also couldn't find any bias. Have a look at the detail of the Senate Report, as it's quite informative (there's also a decent Larvatus Prodeo post on the report, but I doubt anyone here would read it).

    If anything, unis are inherently conservative institutions. They are run along strictly capitalist lines these days, so if there was a buck to be made in 'conservative' subjects, there's absolutely no doubt the unis would be chasing it. Furthermore, there's an institutional bias toward conservatism, given that it takes more effort to overthrow old opinions than to merely parrot them. Putting out genuinely critical, new opinions is hard work, but it's certainly possible. And there are plenty of conservative academics employed in Australia (have a look at the academics who write for Quadrant, for instance). And yet, rather than cite any actual evidence of bias, people here cite anecdotes, or claim tha teaching Keynes in an economics course is evidence of a 'liberal' conspiracy. Non-conservative readers have a right to be sceptical here.

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  21. THR

    You are correct that for the most part Americans make no distinction between the term left and liberal.

    At US unis, engineering, math, other unsubjective departments really have no political spin. However most American universities have requirements now that you must take classes from other departments including humanities to graduate, in particular non-Western perspectives. So for example I wound up with an African History as part of a math degree. there is nothing wrong with learning about other cultures honestly, but my experience with these classes was that they were decidedly anti-Western.

    Really most of the pressure for leftism at US unis comes form the students. I say this as someone who both attended and taught at several different ones in different regions. Thus You are also correct that they are just giving the consumers what they want.

    A free market would deal with this naturally. We do not have a free market in America contrary to popular belief the government intrudes everywhere, including education, often with disastrous results. Most Americans do not know what a free market is or how it works anyhow so perhaps that is for the best.

    Rose's comment on anarchists in favor of totalitarianism reminds me of something. It is interesting to point out that capitalism is essentially economic Darwinism. Yet the people who like Darwin tend to be social leftists while who also dislike Adam Smith. Vice-Versa the people who dislike or disagree with Darwin tend to be capitalists. I do not understand this but it does seem that libertarianism and authoritarianism are the only consistent views on this topic.

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  22. I saw a referance to a university report in the Australian recently stating that of all the media, print and tv, the most pro coalition was ... the ABC. That makes total sense. I'm a friend of the ABC now.

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  23. I saw a referance to a university report in the Australian recently stating that of all the media, print and tv, the most pro coalition was ... the ABC. That makes total sense. I'm a friend of the ABC now.

    Yep, and the report was by Andrew Leigh, who is hardly a raging Bolshevik. He's certainly to the right of any lefty I can think of.

    You are correct that for the most part Americans make no distinction between the term left and liberal.

    It's a shame, as I think there's a valid distinction to be had.


    So for example I wound up with an African History as part of a math degree. there is nothing wrong with learning about other cultures honestly, but my experience with these classes was that they were decidedly anti-Western.


    This may be a fair point. The other question to ask, of course, is whether African history actually does reflect pretty badly on the West, for the most part. It'd be pretty astounding if a course on Modern South American history, for instance, was putting a positive spin on the US or Spanish.

    I agree with you, Liesel, that the US isn't really free market, though it arguably comes closer to the ideal (on some things) than most other places. I don't think we should accept this idea that the ABC, universities, etc, are self-evidently biased. Going back to that Senate report I cited earlier, it's clear that the Young Libs who were shrieking accusations of bias considered that any course that so much as mentioned 'race' or 'gender' was self-evidently biased. It isn't. Why should unis go out of their way to promote conservative content when we're yet to see evidence of bias, and there's no apparent market for such content?

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  24. So I guess the ABC is right wing. It obviously isn't. We all KNOW it isn't. That's why you enjoy watching it. Unless you consider I don't know the right wing of the labor party to be right wing, the greens are left and that's your politics. The level of self serving delusion here is terrifying. Uni's aren't left because they make money and are institutions?

    The uni's are clearly, clearly left. You say they're not left because they don't obviously fail right wing arguing assignments. You don't have to fail an idea to win, you can win by starving it out and having the same bill of fare. That is what the majority of unis are doing in their course offerings and class discussion. That is certainly what my uni, which was one of the eight, was doing in arts and law. I hope that's not too anecdotal to say. I'm sorry I guess I should grow up.

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  25. Yep, and the report was by Andrew Leigh, who is hardly a raging Bolshevik.

    He is hardly a conservative though, is he?

    As this article shows, Leigh appears to cling doggedly to a number of left-wing orthodoxies. He may not be a 'raging Bolshevik', but his views certainly place him among the 'progressive Left' crowd.

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  26. Sorry kids, but merely being exposed to an opinion you dislike is not 'bias'.

    No, but designing entire subjects and courses to promote certain political views or ideologies counts as 'bias' in my view.

    A quick glance at the list of courses and subjects offered by Arts departments these days clearly reveals their political leanings. Topics in Indigenous or Feminist studies are bound to be filled with anti-white male sentiment, just like a theoretical crackpot topic such as "Holocaust Revisionism" is guaranteed to be anti-Semitic.

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  27. Any university student who values their marks and wants to maintain a high academic average on their transcript knows the only way to do so is to regurgitate the standard leftist line to appease the lecturers. If you argue against any of the left's sacred keys, whether it be irrelevant Keynesian models, compulsory mediation in law or if you support being tough on terrorists in an international relations course, you will be lucky to pass. You certainly will never get a High Distinction.

    The university long ago stopped being a forum of academic inquiry and intellectual curiosity. That is something we should view with sadness. The West is truly a culture in decline, and it isn't the Islamists or any other external force facilitating it - it is the responsibility of a set of corrosive traitors within, who parade themselves aroundas Marxist-Feminist-Queer-loving "tolerant" "diverse" idiots.

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  28. The tradition of the West is so strong too. It is a tower. You just have to learn it.

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  29. Sorry kids, but merely being exposed to an opinion you dislike is not 'bias'.

    Sorry, chump, but if I am capable of getting a BA, MA, and PhD as I did, I am capable of recognizing leftist bias when I see it, and it is pervasive in the US university system.

    Being discriminated against for your politics, or marked down for same, is bias,

    These are not the only forms of bias. The most prevalent and most important form of bias is in how the facts are presented, and the inane Leftist interpretation of the facts is the one that prevails in US academia.

    I trust you've raised issues of bias with the relvant uni authorities?

    Since they are all Leftist cretins it is pointless to complain to them about Leftist bias.

    We're still yet to see any evidence of bias ni Australian unis from anybody here.

    Since you wouldn't accept it anyway, why should anyone bother?

    If anything, unis are inherently conservative institutions... Furthermore, there's an institutional bias toward conservatism, given that it takes more effort to overthrow old opinions than to merely parrot them. Putting out genuinely critical, new opinions is hard work, but it's certainly possible.

    Ironically, this is true, but not in the sense you mean. Academia is "conservative" in the sense that it fiercely defends the prevailing Leftist dogma. It is very hard to overthrow the prevailing Leftist opinions, so most academics simply parrot them. Putting out genuinely new opinions - i.e. opinions that critique and challenge the entrenched Leftist dogma - is very hard, and most academics simply go with the flow.

    They are run along strictly capitalist lines these days, so if there was a buck to be made in 'conservative' subjects, there's absolutely no doubt the unis would be chasing it.

    Can't speak for Oz, but the idea that US universities are "strictly capitalist" is utterly laughable.

    The other question to ask, of course, is whether African history actually does reflect pretty badly on the West, for the most part. It'd be pretty astounding if a course on Modern South American history, for instance, was putting a positive spin on the US or Spanish.

    Are you able to recognize that a non-Leftist critique of western relations with Africa or of US relations with Latin America is possible? That is, to study these subjects "critically" one need not automatically accept Leftist dogma and use the Leftist intepretive lens. Yet the vats majority of historians of these subjects do so, which is a clear example of Leftist bias.

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  30. "THR said...

    ""Hey THR get your arse back to marxist land!""

    Hey redkiller, get your arse into a library and learn some arguments before embarrassing yourself before your conservative brethren."

    The marxist THR has exhibited a typical (and laughable) academic conceit - that the most important things are learned from books.

    ...reminds me of a line from a play (forget which one), where some marxist young-turk is berating some oldster about his political naivetee "What do you know about fascism? You've never even read a book about it."

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  31. Mr. Richardson, I have been reading your blog for some time after finding it via View from the Right, and I commend you on your excellent work. This is my first comment.

    Anonymous said,

    "Too bad the leftist stranglehold on academic hiring and promotion ensures that the university system is a sterile intellectual monoculture, and no such alternatives exist.

    "The demand for alternatives most certainly exists. The Left is determined to prevent students from hearing any other viewpoint besides inane Leftist dogma."

    I don't know about Australia, but there are some alternatives in America. Hillsdale College, Grove City College, Christendom College, Liberty University, and Thomas Aquinas College are examples.

    On the general subject of the problems in the academy, Marion Montgomery has written a book, The Truth of Things: Liberal Arts and the Recovery of Reality, which I highly recommend to Mr. Richardson and anyone else who may be interested.

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