Flat White

The federal government didn’t kill university arts departments. Try cultural Marxism

11 April 2021

3:27 PM

11 April 2021

3:27 PM

In a defence of arts and humanities departments in the Nine newspapers last week that flagged concerns about their survival, La Trobe University emeritus professor of politics Judith Brett argued commonwealth government animosity was the principal reason these departments across Australia are in such a parlous state.

Brett criticises the conservative government for its “deep-seated hostility” towards the humanities and attacks last year’s decision by the then education minister Dan Tehan to increase fees for the majority of degrees as “bizarre”.

After noting what she sees as the “misogynist, sexist and bullying culture” of the national parliament (most of it involving coalition MPs and their staff) Brett goes on to imply arts degrees represent a remedy as they instil empathy by allowing students to put themselves in “another person’s shoes”.

While described as a political historian and an emeritus professor of politics at La Trobe University it’s obvious Brett is either ignorant or in denial about the true reasons why arts and humanities degrees are now shunned and why in her words universities are suffering a “serious crisis”.

As detailed in just-released anthology Cancel Culture and the Left’s Long March the real reason is because of the destructive impact of neo-Marxist critical theory intent on imposing cultural-left group think based on a rainbow alliance of radical philosophies ranging from postmodernism, deconstructionism to radical feminist, gender and postcolonial theories.

As noted by Gary Marks in his chapter the origins of what is known as cancel culture can be traced back to the emergence of the Frankfurt School in Germany during the early 1920s. A time when Marxist academics realised the most effective way to overthrow capitalism was to engage in the culture wars and take the long march through the institutions.

The cultural revolution of the late 60s and early 70s, illustrated by the 1968 student riots in Paris, Vietnam moratoriums, Woodstock and the hippy movement, also helps explain why universities are now conservative free zones. Marks argues the counter-culture movement: “produced a revival in classical Marxism and critical theory. Universities were expanding, and Marxism became a respected academic tradition in many social science departments”.

The global impact of the left’s long march cannot be overestimated. Allan Bloom in his 1987 classic The Closing of the American Mind describes how radicalised students chanting “Hey Hey Ho Ho, Western Civ has got to go” condemned conservative academics as reactionary, sexist and racist and forced universities to introduce courses championing cultural-left ideology and groupthink.

In England, as detailed in Roger Scruton’s Culture Counts, the impact of neo-Marxist critical theory has also been profound. Especially in relation to the humanities, Scruton argues in departments across Europe and America any commitment to the West’s “literary, artistic and philosophical inheritance” was “subject to contemptuous dismissal” and denounced as the product of “dead white males”.

The infection represented by neo-Marxist inspired theory has also destroyed any concept of an arts or humanities degree providing a balanced and objective initiation to what a Victorian report chaired by Jean Blackburn describes as “our best validated knowledge and artistic achievements”.

Such is the dominance of cultural-left indoctrination and group think that Jennifer Oriel in her chapter in the Cancel Culture anthology writes: “Academics who benefitted from classical education watched universities transformed from sites of higher learning into revolutionary colleges during the late 1960s. Politics replaced the pursuit of truth, beauty and harmony as the raison d’etre of higher education. Today, the university is a hollow man stripped of purpose and devoid of substance”.

In his 1996 Boyer Lectures the Australian academic Pierre Ryckmans is equally critical when arguing: “A true university is (and has always been) anchored in values. Deprived of this holding ground, it can only drift at the caprice of all the winds and currents of fashion, and, in the end is doomed to founder in the shallows of farce and incoherence”.

And Marks, Oriel and Ryckams are not alone in their critique. Other academics critical of the prevailing cultural-left orthodoxy dominating universities include: Merv Bendle, John Carroll and Steve Chavura. All academics with years of experience teaching in arts and humanities departments.

In addition to either ignoring or being unaware of the destructive impact of the left’s long march Judith Brett also mistakenly argues that one of the strengths of arts and humanities degrees is that they develop empathy – the ability to “put yourself in another person’s shoes”.

Ignored is whereas subjects like literature and history once taught students to empathise and feel sympathetic such an approach has long since been attacked as an example of capitalist inspired cultural hegemony. Literature, instead of teaching empathy and discrimination, is now about analysing texts in terms of radical literary theory and identity politics.

A conservative view of teaching history has similarly been deconstructed in terms of gender, ethnicity, class and postcolonial theory. Instead of empathising or trying to understand the past students are told they must reimagine history in terms of Western imperialism and white supremacy.

Dr Kevin Donnelly has just released Cancel Culture and the Left’s Long March detailing the origins and dangers of cancel culture and political correctness (available atkevindonnelly.com.au). 


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