Exclusive: Higher Education and ‘The Vacuity of Hope’


Hope - when grounded in reality - is a fine quality. It can bolster one's will to prevail in the face of hardship. And it can even lift the spirits of an entire nation, as was the case when Ronald Reagan led Americans out of the darkness that beset us during the Carter years.

But hope is only a state of mind. Serious people do not aspire to hope in and of itself, for hope without a clearly defined object is pointless. Nor is hope alone sufficient for reaching one's goals; otherwise we would see many more lottery winners. As a friend of mine at the Army War College years ago was fond of reminding his students, "hope is not a strategy."

Yet during this presidential campaign, many college students have embraced hope, or more precisely Barack Obama's "audacity of hope," as though it were an end unto itself. This is all the more remarkable because, despite his beguiling eloquence, the candidate's frothy promises of "change" and "bipartisanship" and "transcendence" plainly conflict with both his public record and his personal history.

Some students wholeheartedly support the progressive, that is to say Leftist, agenda lurking behind Obama's words. The ambiguity does not trouble them. In fact, they welcome it: for them obfuscation in the service of their cause is no vice.

But many others are simply unwilling or unable (or both) to discern the contradictions that Barack Obama embodies. They eschew thinking and instead have given themselves over to the hope for some ill-defined, but somehow better, tomorrow. And their detachment from critical thought goes well beyond the natural naïveté and impatience of youth.

Both the rise of an unquestioning cadre of young foot soldiers for the "progressive" movement and the numbing of students' intellectual faculties are symptomatic of the state of affairs extant on campuses throughout the country.

Those wishing to plumb this disturbing situation could find no better place to start than in the May 2008 issue of The New Criterion. There, noted scholars, Roger Kimball, Alan Charles Kors, Robert L. Paquette, Victor Davis Hanson, James Piereson, and Charles Murray, provide "pathologist's reports" on the condition of an American academic establishment where, in Roger Kimball's words, "traditional ideas about the civilizing nature and goals of education no longer enjoy widespread allegiance." But be warned: the news is not good.

It is rare today in academe to find even the pretense of the disinterested search, preservation, and transmission of knowledge in a nonpartisan environment free of ideological intimidation. Instead, the dogma of multiculturalism reigns. All cultures are considered to be of equal value - save for Western civilization, which is demonized.

Questioning the prevailing dogma is not permitted. And "politically correct" thinking is enforced by commissars who believe that academic freedom applies only for those hewing to the party line. Witness the sad case of former Harvard president Larry Summers - who once at an academic conference had the temerity to suggest that some cognitive differences between the sexes might not (gasp!) be the result of patriarchal dominance.

Coupled with this narrowing of the allowed range of scholarly inquiry and debate is the politicization of the professoriate. Many academic departments, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, function as closed shops that perpetuate and deepen the stranglehold the Left has on the academy. Were these the days when professors assiduously concealed their own opinions from their students, and indeed even encouraged students to explore views contrary to their own, this might not be so troubling. But that time is long gone. Today too many "tenured radicals" see their mission to be the creation of activists who share a Leftist worldview. Politics is central to such an endeavor. But what happens in their classrooms cannot pass as education.

Against the decline our colleges and universities stands a small but determined band of scholars - both liberals and conservatives - who recognize the threat posed by the Left's takeover of our schools. Organizations, such as the National Association of Scholars and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, play an essential role in coordinating the resistance. And some courageous individuals, like Wellesley's Mary Lefkowitz, are confronting outrages on their campuses. In this battle for the very soul of our nation, silence equals appeasement equals defeat. The ranks of the dissidents may be growing, but whether or not they will prevail is an open question. This will be a long war.

But for now American higher education continues to shortchange its students. The prevailing milieu of curtailed and policed discourse, accompanied by what can best be described as Left-wing indoctrination, leaves young people ill-equipped to form a reasoned worldview. Thus, they face the future with hope that is devoid of substance - the vacuity of hope.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Family Security Matters Contributing Editor David F. Bedey holds a Ph.D. in space physics from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and master's degrees in national security and strategic studies earned at both the Naval War College and the Army War College.

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