Note: A version of this piece ran in the Investors Business Daily (8-21-07).
Kudos to Hank Brown, President of the University of Colorado, and the CU Board of Regents for doing the right thing and firing Ward Churchill. Unfortunately, what most riled public opinion about Churchill—the patent disdain for Americans in his reference to 9-11 victims as "little Eichmanns"—isn't confined to one cultural studies professor with a penchant for academic fraud. Rather, Churchill's anti-American comments reflect much of the design and purpose of modern academia.
If there is one word that captures the intellectual and political agenda of the modern academy it is multiculturalism. Multicultural centers and departments continue to spring up on college campuses across the country, and many schools have added multiculturalism to their mission statements. There is reasoning behind this push for multiculturalism, and by thinking it through, we can understand better why some American academics utter some of the most virulent anti-American invective.
Multiculturalism is a popularized form of modern Western philosophy, which despite its many internal differences agrees on balance that there is no objective truth, especially no moral or political truth, to be discovered by human reason. This modern view assumes that human nature is malleable, changeable. Almost like plastic, human nature allegedly bends and conforms to the cultural forces around it. Human nature, supposedly, varies from culture to culture, time to time. Instead of one objective truth that applies to all human beings, therefore, multiculturalists insist there are only diverse perspectives.
But if multicultural education isn't burdened with a concern for truth (Churchill just shrugs off the multiple indictments of academic dishonesty), what does it mean to be educated in the multicultural sense? Any thoughtful multiculturalist understands that he gets himself into an intellectual pickle if he argues that his views are true. He stands, after all, on the ground that there is no truth (expect the theory of multiculturalism, which he supposes to be unquestionably true).
The keystone of multiculturalism is the hypothesis that what ordinary people believe is "true" is nothing but their own cultural prejudice. The real test of multicultural education is whether one has freed one's mind from the trappings of one's culture—especially if one's culture happens to be, like American culture, more powerful and prosperous than others. Celebrating foreign cultures and rejecting America are two sides of the same multicultural coin; it is the way American multiculturalists demonstrate their own multicultural sophistication to each other. From their perspective, the most anti-American Americans are the most educated because they are the most multicultural Americans.
Multiculturalists fail to understand, however, that America is more than mere culture or tradition. America's foundation is much firmer: the self-evident truth that every human being possesses equal rights by nature, the very premise of constitutional government by consent and the free society the multiculturalist enjoys. An American multiculturalist might woo and wow fellow multiculturalists by denouncing America-Churchill, for example, might besmirch fallen Americans as "little Eichmanns"—but he dares to speak that way only in the free U. S., where he quickly ducks for cover under the Constitution's protection of free speech.
Some conservatives, David Horowitz most notably, oppose the prevailing multiculturalism of our schools by pushing for an "academic bill of rights" that would ensure greater "intellectual diversity" and thereby remove politics from education. But in his emphasis on diversity, Horowitz concedes the most important ground to the multiculturalists.
In a debate last year between Horowitz and Churchill, Churchill argued that there is no truth, that all supposed knowledge is in fact political "ideology," nothing but irrational cultural prejudices. For Churchill, it's impossible to remove politics from education. In response, Horowitz never challenged Churchill's relativistic premise; he seemed to agree with Churchill that political opinions are merely cultural prejudices. The difference is that Churchill wants his multicultural prejudices to continue dominating American higher education, while Horowitz seeks more "diversity" in the classroom.
Horowitz wants to break up the monopoly liberals have on academics today, and I applaud him for that. But Horowitz's complaints ring hollow unless he can defend the principles that conservatives want to conserve as true, something he seems reluctant to do. If all political ideologies are equally irrational and therefore equally untrue, then why does it matter if students are exposed to one irrational prejudice or a "diversity" of prejudices?
The political goal of our institutions of higher education is not to give irrational cheerleaders for America equal billing with unreasonable America-haters. Rather, it is to teach American students the truth about their country, beginning with the self-evident truths that form the core of political justice and the American experiment in self-government. If we muster the nerve and the intelligence to teach those truths without blushing, we will find Ward Churchill is the least of our problems. Of much more concern are the multicultural institutions that (mis)educated him.