Western civilization and liberal democracy are under siege. This isn’t new. We’ve been challenged just in the last century by fascism and communism, by Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Soviet Russia and Red China.
One might have expected – and many did– that the ideology of these failed societies would remain in its grave. But, astonishingly, it has climbed out of the cemetery, zombie like. And it has been welcomed and adopted by North American university professors, and then by their students, who became school teachers, social workers,and professors themselves. Marxism failed in the world but won in western academe.
In anthropology, two of the most influential books during the second half of the 20th century were Cultural Materialism by Marvin Harris and Europe and the People Without History by Eric Wolf. Both are explicitly Marxist, the latter Leninist, with an emphasis on European imperialism and colonialism (but of course with no mention of Soviet or Chinese communist imperialism and colonialism).
Others pursued Marxist approaches under more neutral labels, such as ‘political economy’ and ‘critical anthropology.’
Elsewhere in academia, the geographers labelled their Marxism ‘political ecology,’ while sociologists prefer the more explicit ‘Marxist sociology.’ The American Sociological Association includes the Marxist Sociology Section. The Marxist approach is also pursued under the label ‘critical sociology.’ Political science, too, has adopted Marxism. One political scientist at McGill University was a forthright champion of communist Albania, until it fell, and then North Korea (so misunderstood!).
Currently dominant in the social sciences and the humanities is the neo-Leninist post-colonial theory. It offers the keen insight that history began in the 17th century with European imperialism, when evil was first introduced to the world. Prior to western imperialism, everyone in the world got along beautifully, mixing and mingling in an egalitarian and sharing fashion. It was the western imperialists who divided mankind, inventing the caste system in India and tribes in Africa in order better to control the natives. I suppose that the Iranian Balochi tribes, who were entirely independent of western imperialism, divided themselves into tribes so they might attract western imperialists.
Most professors in the anthropology department at McGill University, even some archaeologists, identify as post-colonialists and teach post-colonialism to their students. They also advocate for oppressed, subaltern and marginalized colonial peoples. Nor are they only limited to advocacy, because they engage in anti-colonial activism.
One example is their championing of Palestinians against the Israelis, on the grounds that Palestinians are indigenous and Jews are colonial settlers. Another example is their plan, fully supported by McGill administration, to hire First Nations professors who will represent the subaltern and colonial subject, and offer students native wisdom. Racial hiring is back in fashion.
The basic principle of Marxism is that capitalism is bad because it supports a class hierarchy of capitalists and proletariat, the production of the proletariat being stolen by the capitalists. The ideal utopian model of society for Marxists is absolute economic equality of all people.
In reality, communist societies did advance economic equality, although what was shared equally was poverty rather than prosperity, because the highly centralized economy failed at production. Large sectors of the populace who were considered anti-social elements were wiped out through exile, famine, execution or transportation to labour camps, the infamous gulag. Tens of millions of citizens were murdered. Dissidents were deemed to be acting against their own interests, and thus considered insane and forced into mental asylums where they were permanently drugged.
And, yet, notwithstanding the total failures of all historical communist societies to deliver anything but tyranny, poverty and death, western academics continue to advocate socialism and communism, to denounce capitalism, and to treat ‘neoliberalism,’ ‘markets’ and ‘profit’ as dirty words and evil phenomena. Various university programs are explicitly anti-capitalist.
And students absorb the lesson. The two top students in a recent senior seminar at McGill University independently said to me that “Capitalism must be replaced.” This appears to be generally the case among college students and recent college graduates. In a recent poll, for example, American “respondents younger than 30 … rated socialism more favourably than capitalism (43 per cent versus 32 per cent, respectively).” For all age groups, Democrats rated socialism and capitalism equally positively (both at 42 per cent). That is a remarkable degree of opposition to the existing American economic system that has produced unprecedented prosperity.
The social justice perspective expands the orthodox Marxist economic class conflict dynamic to include gender classes, racial classes, sexual preference classes, adherents of different religions, and legal and illegal immigrants. The view advanced is that the only discourse acceptable sides with the alleged oppressed. Other opinions are said to be hate speech and violence advanced by the racist and sexist.
Without democratic debate in universities, diversity of opinion and democracy in the larger society is undermined.
Western universities appear to be dedicated to undermining capitalism and democracy on behalf of a blood-soaked and failed ideology. Even western civilization is demeaned as the evil villain of history.
What happens when today’s students become tomorrow’s politicians, bureaucrats and legislators?
Unfortunately, our professors have devoted themselves to unrealistic, imaginary utopias as an attack on our successful, proven society. Don’t students and taxpayers deserve better?
Philip Carl Salzman is professor of anthropology at McGill University, senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and fellow of the Middle East Forum.
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