August 5, 2022

JOHN MCGINNIS: Prison Abolitionism and the Academy’s Decline.

Its prominence and the arguments deployed its favor show the willingness of the legal academy and the intellectual class in general to tolerate foolish arguments so long as they conform to current fashions on the left. Rather than build a framework for incremental reform based on empirical evidence, such legal academics are now paid to engage in utopian—even nihilistic–rhetoric. It might be thought that these kinds of ideas—from abolishing prisons to defunding the police to eliminating standardized tests—mark a return to the radicalism of the 1960s.

But then the radicalism came from students against the establishment. Here the radicalism comes from the educational establishment itself. The better historical analogy is to nineteenth-century Russia. There the intelligentsia contained substantial radical elements, offering not to reform but to destroy the institutions of its society. Fyodor Dostoevsky memorably captured their perfervid meanderings in his great novel, The Possessed. . . .

The prevalence of leftist ideas in the academy is predictable, because as Thomas Sowell has observed: “The most fundamental fact about the ideas of the political left is that they do not work. Therefore we should not be surprised to find the left concentrated in institutions where ideas do not have to work in order to survive.” But it is only recently that ideas that are absurd both on their face and on reflection have become an important part of the conversation. And the academics who get status and tenure from the ideas will hire people like themselves who can replicate more of them. The result will be greater alienation from the public, who will regard the legal academy more than ever as a bastion of folly.

Not without reason.

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