The academic Left thinks big when it comes to #TheResistance. It thinks big in mounting symbolic protests such as the 2018 March for Science, the 2017 Women’s March, or the 2014 People’s Climate March. Grandiosity is never too grand. But when it comes to the substance of teaching and learning, the academic left prefers to think small. Small courses on small topics are the trend. These are followed by small academic requirements for small intellectual goals.
The Left’s taste for intellectual smallness is a relatively new thing. No one would accuse Marx or his 20th-century followers of harboring small intellectual designs. What has happened to turn the revolutionary class to a preoccupation with paper bags and plastic water bottles? What turned the rightful heirs of the Great Terror into the apostles of microaggressions? Why has the vanguard of world history and multiculturalism suddenly settled into a fascination with the equivalent of collecting intellectual lint?
It’s worth a read, but “The Left’s taste for intellectual smallness” isn’t that relatively new. Chastened by the ineffectiveness of Lyndon Johnson’s bloated Great Society, angered that the suave metropolitan JFK had been replaced by the cornpone Johnson, Democrats first turned against the Vietnam War, and then turned increasingly insular and cynical. By 1968, Robert F. Kennedy had rejected his brother’s forward-looking pro-American “New Frontier” worldview for the nascent doomsday environmentalism that would obsesses the left to this day. As I wrote in 2011 in a post titled, “Welcome Back My Friends, to the Malaise that Never Ends,” “Compare RFK’s rhetoric as he tells a classroom of young kids that they were doomed to spend their adult lives trapped in a Soylent Green-style eco-apocalypse, with the optimism of his brother, and it was clear that the end of the New Frontier was well in sight:”