The Post-Liberal University

The Post-Liberal University May 3, 2024

We shouldn’t be surprised at the campus protests in support of Hamas terrorists over Israel, nor at the university administrators who are letting them run out of control.  The students are simply acting out what the universities have taught them.

That’s the point of a stunning article published in The Atlantic by George Packer entitled “The Campus-Left Occupation That Broke Higher Education.”  The deck states its thesis:  “Elite colleges are now reaping the consequences of promoting a pedagogy that trashed the postwar ideal of the liberal university.”

The Atlantic is behind a paywall, but here is a sampling:

Ideas born in the ’60s, subsequently refined and complicated by critical theory, postcolonial studies, and identity politics, are now so pervasive and unquestioned that they’ve become the instincts of students who are occupying their campuses today. Group identity assigns your place in a hierarchy of oppression. Between oppressor and oppressed, no room exists for complexity or ambiguity. Universal values such as free speech and individual equality only privilege the powerful. Words are violence. There’s nothing to debate.

Packer describes what he calls “the post-liberal university.”

The post-liberal university is defined by a combination of moneymaking and activism. Perhaps the biggest difference between 1968 and 2024 is that the ideas of a radical vanguard are now the instincts of entire universities—administrators, faculty, students. They’re enshrined in reading lists and codes of conduct and ubiquitous clichés. Last week an editorial in the Daily Spectator, the Columbia student newspaper, highlighted the irony of a university frantically trying to extricate itself from the implications of its own dogmas: “Why is the same university that capitalizes on the legacy of Edward Said and enshrines The Wretched of the Earth into its Core Curriculum so scared to speak about decolonization in practice?”

Edward Said (1935-2003) was a Palestinian-American and a literature professor at Columbia whose book Orientalism was a catalyst for “anti-colonial” scholarship and the Palestinian cause.  The Wretched of the Earth is a book by the French Marxist Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) which argues that since colonialism is violence, it must be removed by violence.  The case for violence against Israel is enshrined in Columbia’s core curriculum as required reading!

That quotation from the editorial in the student newspaper is poignant.  The student journalist has a point.  Students must be wondering, why are you threatening to punish us?  We are only carrying out what we learned in our classes.  Instead of suspending or expelling us, since we are demonstrating that we have learned our lessons well, you should be giving us an A!

In summary, says Packer,

Elite universities are caught in a trap of their own making, one that has been a long time coming. They’ve trained pro-Palestinian students to believe that, on the oppressor-oppressed axis, Jews are white and therefore dominant, not “marginalized,” while Israel is a settler-colonialist state and therefore illegitimate. They’ve trained pro-Israel students to believe that unwelcome and even offensive speech makes them so unsafe that they should stay away from campus.

And yet, I see good news here.  This searing criticism of American universities was published in The Atlantic, arguably the flagship of mainstream American liberalism.  And its author, George Packer, has impeccable liberal credentials.  Could it be that the eyes of liberals are opening to the folly of their fairly recent alliance with hard left radicals!

Traditional American liberals of the Kennedy and LBJ generations–of which Joe Biden used to be a member–for all of their faults were at least pro-American and anti-Communist.   More recently, they have naively gone along with the radicals who have joined the Democratic Party and seized the leadership mantel of American progressivism.

But now the students chanting “Death to America!” and carrying “Final Solution” signs in support of Islamic terrorists may be causing mainstream progressives to realize that there is nothing “liberal” about Hamas or Hezbollah, or the universities their sympathizers have taken over.

As we have been blogging about, conservatives have been flirting with “post-liberal” ideology.  Progressives are already far down that road, as we see with the “post-liberal universities.”

Perhaps, in light of our current political and educational meltdowns, both conservatives and progressives could rediscover classical liberalism–that is, the belief in individual liberty, democracy, free markets, and human rights–in government and the liberal arts in education.


Photo:  Protests at Columbia University (April 24, 2024) by SWinxy, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons



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