The Long March of Woke Ideology Through the Universities

August 30, 2022 Updated: August 30, 2022

Commentary

Universities, as a result of the 60s and 70s cultural revolution and the decision by the cultural left to take the long march through the institutions, have especially been affected by politically correct ideology and wokeness. Such is the dominance of neo-Marxist and postmodern-inspired ideology that left-of-centre academics in a range of subjects dominate departments and faculties across the English-speaking world.

Research carried out by the American-based Heterodox Academy concludes: “The data for three campus constituencies unequivocally show that liberals are considerably overrepresented on university and college campuses. And the research on campus climate reveals a decrease in openness to neo-liberal viewpoints.”

The British think tank, the Adam Smith Institute, draws a similar conclusion: “Around 50 percent of the general public supports right-wing or conservative parties, compared to less than 12 percent of academics.”

Historically, university education has been centred on liberal education, one that has its origins in Europe and the United Kingdom and that can be traced back to ancient Greece and philosophers like Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato.

Such an education, as argued by Cardinal John Henry Newman in “The Idea of a University,” inculcates a particular habit of mind involving “freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom; or what in a previous discourse I have ventured to call a philosophical habit.”

The English poet T.S. Eliot in “Notes Towards a Definition of Culture,” argues in a similar vein when suggesting universities “should stand for the preservation of learning, for the pursuit of truth, and in so far as men are capable of it, the attainment of wisdom.”

Such has been the destructive impact of the cultural left’s takeover.

Concept of a Liberal University Has Changed

Pierre Ryckmans, a sinologist who taught at the Australian National University, argues the liberal concept of a university no longer exists.

In his 1996 Boyer Lectures, Ryckmans describes a young academic attacking a visiting speaker for his “narrow bourgeois elitism” for daring to discuss the importance of Chinese literati painting.

In addition to rehashing slogans made popular by Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution, the young academic argued it was impossible to discriminate or be objective as all value judgements are relative and subjective.

Ryckman’s reply was, “to deny the existence of objective values is to deprive the university of its spiritual means of operation.”

Such is his distaste and hostility to what a university education has been reduced to. He concluded: “The main problem is not so much that the university as Western civilisation knew it is now dead, but that its death has hardly registered in the consciousness of the public, and even the majority of academics themselves.”

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People study on campus at the University of Technology Sydney, in Australia, on April 6, 2016. (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Ryckmans is not alone in his pessimistic and disturbing summation of the impact of cultural-left ideology and the harmful impact of critical theory and its more recent progenies.

Merv Bendle, a senior lecturer in history and communication at James Cook University, also criticised the subservience to cultural-left theories and Australian academics for their “simplistic default position of class, sex, race.”

When detailing what he saw as the unremitting attacks on Western culture caused by “an ideological contagion of shame and self-loathing,” Bendle argued that this “nihilistic worldview is now institutionalised throughout Western academia.”

Degradation of Art Leads to Corrupt Values

John Carroll, formally at La Trobe University, puts a similar case when arguing Australia’s cultural elites, including universities, the school curricula, museums, and art galleries, no longer are committed to rationality and objectivity exemplified by “the Western tradition since classical Greece.”

Carroll argues in “How I Became a Political Conservative” that “the Left impulse has been less calmly quizzical, more aggressively hostile, seeking to undermine existing authorities without replacing them. Accordingly, art has to be shocking; values have to be deconstructed; meanings have to be exposed as rationalisations for entrenched wealth and privilege.”

The British art critic and academic Giles Auty, who settled in Australia, also condemns the cultural left’s takeover of the academy and the pernicious influence of what he describes as postmodernism and political correctness. Auty describes postmodernism as “a deeply anti-democratic political as well as a cultural movement.”

Auty concludes in “How the West is Really Being Lost” that: “The widespread politicisation of culture and the arts in Australia has had a particularly unfortunate effect on all kinds of aesthetic judgments, which are widely dismissed today as elements of an outdated bourgeois Western culture.”

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Workers guide a large metal girder as it is lowered by a crane on a construction site for a new building decorated with artwork in Sydney’s central business district, Australia, on Nov. 9, 2017. (REUTERS/David Gray)

Wokeness as the Silencer in Universities

American campuses, since the heady days of the late 1960s, have also become a victim of the culture wars.

As noted by Alan Bloom in “Closing of the American Mind” published in 1987: “The American University in the 60s was experiencing the same dismantling of the structure of rational inquiry as had the German universities in the 30s. No longer believing in their higher vocation, both gave way to a highly ideologized student populace.”

Subsequent authors, including Roger Kimball, Dinesh D’Souza, and more recently Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay in “Critical Theories,” have detailed the steady decline of academic impartiality and reason as wokeness became the new orthodoxy stifling any opposition.

What constitutes the purpose of education and a worthwhile curriculum has also been radically redefined in universities in the UK. Cultural critics, including Roger Scruton, Douglas Murray and Frank Furedi, detail at some length the nature and impact of the left’s long march through the institutions.

In “Where Have All The Intellectuals Gone,” Furedi warns against the impact of woke, postmodern relativism and subjectivity. A radical perspective that denies knowledge has any intrinsic meaning or value, that there are no truths and that the purpose of education is restricted to what is immediately relevant and utilitarian.

The most bizarre example of woke, post-colonial ideology involves the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield, where UK science is condemned as “inherently white.”

The woke academics believe non-Western science perspectives must be adopted as the European scientific Enlightenment “was both a fundamental contributor to European imperialism and a major beneficiary of its injustices … It’s clear that science cannot be objective and apolitical.”

The above is an edited extract from “The Dictionary of Woke,” to be launched by Sky News Australia’s Chris Kenny in Sydney on Sept. 20. Tickets available at https://www.trybooking.com/CCBUP

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Kevin Donnelly is a senior fellow at the Australian Catholic University's PM Glynn Institute.