Can the average humanities professor be blamed if she rises in the morning, checks the headlines, shivers, looks in the mirror, and beholds a countenance of righteous and powerless innocence? Whatever has happened politically to the United States, it’s happened in stark opposition to the values so many philosophers and English professors, historians and art historians, creative writers and interdisciplinary scholars of race, class, and gender hold dear.
We are, after all, the ones to include diverse voices on the syllabus, use inclusive language in the classroom, teach stories of minority triumph, and, in our conference papers, articles, and monographs, lay bare the ideological mechanisms that move the cranks and offices of a neoliberal economy. Since the Reagan era our classrooms have mustered their might against thoughtless bigotry, taught critical thinking, framed the plight and extolled the humanity of the disadvantaged, and denounced all patriotism that curdles into chauvinism.
We’ve published books like Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s The Signifying Monkey, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, and Kwame Anthony Appiah’s The Ethics of Identity — treatises that marshal humane nuance against prejudice, essentialism, propaganda, and demagogic charisma.
We’ve cast out Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Steve Bannon, but also Allan Bloom, Jordan Peterson, Richard J. Herrnstein, and Charles Murray. Our manner has been academic, but our matter has been political, and we have fought hard. So how have we ended up in these ominous political straits?