Academic Madness and the Politics of Exile

Henry A. Giroux

Ideological fundamentalism and political purity appear to have a strong grip on US and Canadian societies as can be seen in the endless attacks on reason, truth, critical thinking and informed exchange. In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper decries what he derisively attacks as intellectuals and journalists who are “committing sociology” by which he means holding power accountable. For Harper, the attack on “committing sociology” becomes synonymous with removing critical thought from both the university and public discourse.

In one instance of ideological suppression, the Harper government has been accused by a number of scientists and academics of “a pattern that has seen the . . . government reduce media access to scientists and cut funding and programs” because the latter have provided evidence for the destructive effects of climate change. (1) Of course, in the United States, political illiteracy seems to be the one qualification, besides great wealth, that gets one elected to political office. At the same time, celebrity culture smothers the US public with a rampant idiocy that practically ensures that violence is largely experienced as entertainment further reinforced by an anti-intellectualism that provides the foundation for paralyzing most forms of critical and engaged agency.

This type of fundamentalism might be expected in a society that has become increasingly anti-intellectual, given its commitment to commodities, violence, privatization, the death of the social and the bare bones relations of commerce. But it is more surprising when it appears in universities, especially among so-called liberals and progressives. In this instance, political fragmentation, desperation and the fog of insularity appear to be producing a form of ideological fundamentalism fueled by a take-no-prisoners version of political purity that is wrapped in a kind of self-righteous moralism.

This is a moralism marked by an inability or reluctance to imagine what others are thinking. Or as Kant once said, “to think in the place of the other person.” This type of ideological self-righteousness by so-called progressives, and sometimes elements of the orthodox left, is especially dispiriting because it makes a mockery of academic freedom, and often condemns other positions even before they are heard or are available to be discussed and analyzed.

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