Intellectuals Doing Damage, Here in America and abroad.(BOOKS)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 18, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Intellectuals Doing Damage, Here in America and abroad.(BOOKS)


No one writing today describes with greater insight the misdeeds and mendacities of intellectuals than Paul Hollander. A professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mr. Hollander is author of two classic studies of the maladies to which the chattering classes are all too prone to succumb, lemming-like, in great numbers and with stunning mindlessness.

In "Political Pilgrims" (1990), he took up the rich topic of the travels of Western intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba during the 50-year period between 1928 and 1978, when so many of them (but by no means all) returned from their visits assuring their readers that these tyrannies were on the road to establishing true human justice. In "Anti-Americanism" (1994), Mr. Hollander turned his attention to the related subject of how and why hatred of America manifests itself so loudly and relentlessly among academics and intellectuals.

His new book, "Discontents: Postmodern & Postcommunist," a collection of 25 essays plus an introduction, continues Mr. Hollander's cogent analysis of intellectual folks and the damage they do in their pursuit of a perfect society and absolute social justice. Gleaned from such learned journals as Academic Questions and Modern Age and from magazines such as National Review, the essays in "Discontents" look mostly at intellectuals and what they've been doing and saying over the past 20 years.

Mr. Hollander's themes are twofold. First he looks at postmodernism, the politically correct, and their spinoffs and the role they've played in American cultural life. He then looks at our intellectuals and their responses to the fall of communism in he Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and how (for the most part) they've failed to come to terms with the great moral wrongs of communism or even to regard those wrongs as worthy of serious and sustained discussion.

Mr. Hollander's conclusions are direct and unvarnished. After his discussion of affirmative action - a policy many intellectuals insist will lead to racial and social justice - Mr. Hollander writes: "Affirmative action as currently defined and institutionalized does not serve well either social justice, genuine diversity or the cause of improved race relations."

At the end of a devastating look at political correctness on American college campuses, Mr. Hollander observes that "while PC began as an effort to institutionalize the right not to be offended and to realize a wide variety of social ideas," those are not likely to be the efforts for which it is remembered. It is likely to be remembered, he insists, "as yet another failed attempt to make the world a better place by intolerance, rationalized as liberation and social justice."

When he turns his attention to the now three-decade old fashion among professional historians for "history from below," Mr. Hollander accurately observes that the desire on the part of its practitioners isn't driven by a concern that previously "suppressed" stories of women, minorities and the lower classes, from being be told.

Rather history from below in most cases seeks "to show that American history is far fuller of disgraceful episodes than had been thought earlier." History from below, in Mr. Hollander's opinion, "is a form of retroactive social criticism [that] avoids and ignores the conventional elite groups who used to get the lion's share of historical attention." What the historians who write history from below endeavor to do, he concludes, is "highlight aspects of American or Western history that further justify the critics' aversion to the society to which they so ambiguously belong."

But it is the failure of many intellectuals to come to grips with the evils of communism - or with the dangers involved in utopian pursuits of any kind - that elicits Mr.

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