Samuel J. Abrams’ article Think Professors Are Liberal? Try School Administrators published by the New York Times last October was a turning point in his life. Abrams, a political science professor at Sarah Lawrence College, has been living through a hellish backlash that involved “a national media storm in which I was slandered and defamed, my family’s safety was threatened, and my personal property was destroyed on campus.” His sin? He called our attention to the fact that administrators of higher education institutions tend to be overwhelmingly liberal. More than 90% of the surveyed identify themselves as liberal or very liberal. Abrams’ observations mean that collegial administrations are politically more radical than the average professor. There is no doubt that the leading force shaping the college environment through both the selection of the academic body and new students is the managerial bureaucracy. Abrams ended up explaining a lot about not only universities themselves but about the dynamic of power in our society.
To begin with, Abrams is not an exotic figure in America’s academic life. Holding a Ph.D. from Harvard and a fellowship from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), he is the archetype of an anti-Trump neoconservative – which is pointed out in an article about him at The Economist. Nothing about Abrams hints at any sympathies for being an anti-establishment conservative. On the contrary, he is a perfectly unobjectionable figure. Abrams is ideal for universities that seek to deceive the public by saying they are open to debate when in fact they are mental concentration camps. Then the professor went off the Sarah Lawrence script by criticizing left-wing administrators. After the publication of his article by the Times, Abrams became a bête noire of the cultural left. Ironically, a college professor associated with the AEI — an organization that has spent much of the last three decades chasing dissident conservatives not aligned with the neoconservative establishment — has become a kind of Donald Trump with a Ph.D.
We, therefore, must ask: What made a pet conservative to become one of the most hated figures in modern-day academia? Well, he revealed — accidentally, I believe — how the gears of power turn inexorably within universities. These gears pulverize critics. And there is nothing more feared by those who exercise control than to be uncovered.
There is a widespread notion in conservative circles that universities are islands of totalitarianism amid the ocean of freedom of American society. The most famous propagandist of this idea was the Straussian philosopher Allan Bloom in his book, The Closing of The American Mind. According to him, modern universities are anathema to the American experience. He asserted that, while the United States was created based on the rationalist ideas of the Lockean Enlightenment, the universities were taken over by German ideologues and their disciples. In Bloom’s authoritarian view, all creeds that do not conform to the Straussian ideal of liberal democracy must be excommunicated.
Such an idea is a misconception. Yes, the university environment is authoritarian. However strange it may be, this is not an exception in the general social context but a trend that can be observed in virtually every aspect of modern society. The managerial despotism exercised by the collegial bureaucracy — exposed in its ideological lines by Abrams — it is familiar to the power structure that directly or indirectly governs the United States. What we can see in universities is only the worst side of a political reality that is almost omnipresent nowadays.
The more complex a society is, writes the Italian political theorist Gaetano Mosca, the more subtle and efficient will be the control exercised by the ruling class. Bureaucratic control precedes the ideological dimension. Collegial administrators are liberals because liberalism is the doctrine that best helps maintain their power. They are not authoritarians because they are first liberals, but liberals because they are first authoritarians.
The more diverse are the social and multifaceted classes in a political culture, the higher will be the incentives for the creation of a managerial group that can impose control without being questioned. The classical typology of political regimes – which tries to answer who rules according to the number of rulers – fails before the social restructuration caused by the Industrial Revolution on the one hand and secularization on the other. With the collapse of all traditional institutions and the state now occupying the center of social life, the managerial class gains full power.
As noted by the feminist thinker Camille Paglia, the managerial leap forward in collegial life began during the rapid growth phase following World War II and it has been increasing ever since. The universities, according to Paglia, lost the role of gatekeepers of high universal culture and became centers of professional training. Since education is no longer the priority, the role of the professor was diminished. Actually, the only thing growing steadily for the last 74 years has been the staff and not the faculty.
To the extent that being liberal means automatic alignment to the cultural left, the politically correct ideology — which gives a mental framework of control superior to anything thought by Hitler or Stalin — is the perfect expression of the exercise of despotic power through the control of ideas. The only one who came close to describing something similar was Aldus Huxley in Brave New World.
Nevertheless, this phenomenon is not restricted to universities. Egalitarianism as a social organization’s primary goal has become a mantra practically unquestioned in the political debate. Fetishism for equality has motivated every significant decision of the Supreme Court since Brown v. Board. And for no other reason, heterodox interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment by courts have been the primary means of social revolution in the United States.
The bureaucracy that governs the United States has embraced the politically correct ideology to establish managerial control that does not spare even the private thoughts of individuals. In recent decades, we have seen the managerial state push the United States into two failed wars in distant countries, turn over Libya to terrorists, provoke a civil war in Syria, spy on American citizens, chase after a man who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and compel Catholic nuns to provide abortion services. And those are just a few examples.
Although unlikely, Abrams’ career hopefully will survive. But let no one deceive you, his fate is a warning to others who don’t toe the ideological line. All who choose to oppose — even if involuntarily — the power of the ruling class must be silenced or destroyed. Or do you think that Donald Trump, the first president to break with the neoconservative / liberal establishment, to be almost taken down in a palace coup attempt by the special prosecutor is mere coincidence?
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