The madness of our ideological age
Julien Benda’s classic work, “Treason of the Intellectuals,” appeared on the scene in 1927 but now speaks presciently to those of us living a century later. Benda complained that intellectuals, theretofore neutral on issues of politics when speaking ex-cathedra, began favoring one side over the other and being led to embrace only those truths allowed by their preferred political slant, particularly moral relativism. In Benda’s thinking, this made them unreliable and untrustworthy.
Today, our culture has been hijacked by intellectuals via our higher education institutions, which now poisons every discipline known to man. No matter what a person might undertake to study in those institutions of higher learning, this treason will be rampant throughout. It began in the soft sciences and the humanities but has now spread throughout the hard sciences, including mathematics. If word problems were not complex enough, they are now transformed with political underpinnings and recast in politically correct terms.
As Lionel Trilling had it, “This is the great vice of academicism, that it is concerned with ideas rather than with thinking, and nowadays the errors of academicism do not stay in the academy; they make their way into the world, and what begins as failure of perception among intellectual specialists finds its fulfillment in policy and action.”
Nothing is safe. Not public libraries, not schools, not medicine, certainly not our legal system, and not even churches; nothing because the treason of our intellectuals has touched all.
Libraries, once the bastion of neutrality and the poster child for mom and apple pie, once collected materials that presented both sides of a debate on their intellectual merits, have become a jimble jamble of politically correct machinations. Drag queen story hours in public libraries are a case in point.
Whoever thought men dressed up as, well, not any women anyone knows, but caricatures of them is a normal thing to do must not know what normal is. Furthermore, having them read to young children is as harebrained as the Houyhnhnms thought Gulliver’s penchant for “lying and false representation” was. Of course, the whole idea is what drag queens themselves say it is: to normalize what they do for future generations as much as possible. But it doesn’t end there. Libraries now chock their shelves full of every moral obliquity they can find while often avoiding opposing views. It is one thing to present these views to adults, entirely another to present them as truth to young children.
Schools are now unsafe for learning. Adolescents are not only introduced to so-called gender dysphoria but are also often counseled to question their gender identity. Is it any wonder that there is an epidemic of suicide among our young people? Meanwhile, our failure factories, and teacher preparation programs, turn out teachers-to-be, many of whom spend time worrying over systemic racism and pronouns. At the same time, their charges cannot read, write, add, or subtract.
Our modern theologians wail from pulpits about how sin is outdated, evil a nonsense construct, and salvation an especially primitive and out of fashion. Unlike Johannes Kepler, the great 17th-century astronomer who cried, “Oh God, I am thinking thy thoughts after you,” they cry, “Oh God, I am thinking thy thoughts for you.” It’s proving a correction we can live without.
Our politicians continue to push the envelope leftward, and none harder than the current White House administration. President Biden hopes that every dubious moral behavior known to man can either be normalized before he leaves office or is codified into law. Even politicians trying to stand athwart history and shout stop either refuse to do so consistently or speak their objections sotto voce with negligible effect.
Meanwhile, our fifth estate merrily reports all of this as normal and necessary. The Left’s Der Stürmer, better known as the New York Times, often leads the way, with the Washington Post never far behind. Everywhere one turns, the mainstream, whether it is the press, television, or education, the demented party line is repeated. Demur, and you are handled with a chain, as Emily Dickinson had it.
Our imbroglio proves intractable because we are never far from it no matter which way we turn. And we have the treason of intellectuals to thank. With their fingers in every pie of knowledge, sidestepping the flotsam and jetsam of this brainwashing is nearly impossible. The thin silver lining of hope is the news that colleges and universities are struggling post-pandemic. Parents are beginning to figure out that $30-40,000 annually is hardly a good way for a young person to cultivate their future. Many are now opting for apprenticeships or a facsimile that will allow the unfettered and unstained acquisition of knowledge to be imparted at a fraction of the college cost. Moreover, many parents are now fighting school boards and superintendents and are balking at the nonsense that gender is imaginary, and no one knows what a woman is. Public schools stand to lose millions in enrollment as more alternatives emerge.
Physicians are now recasting medical knowledge in the context of gender confusion, refusing to admit male and female. “Birthing people” now replace the female designation, while dangerous and perdurable gender surgeries for children as young as eight or 10 become commonplace.
Conservatives have an unprecedented chance to turn around our drowning ship of state in November. But it will take more than mere voting. The atrophied nature of our culture will require serious rehabilitation and debridement, and more than one voting cycle. Delay will only prolong our illness, possible unto death.
Our moment is at hand. We cannot afford to lose this chance.
Mark Y. Herring is professor emeritus, dean of library services from Winthrop University. Herring spent 42 years as dean or director in academic libraries in Tennessee, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. He was most recently appointed by Gov. Henry McMaster to the South Carolina State Library Board. He resides with his wife, Carol, in Rock Hill.