Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Our own Cultural Revolution?

As an academic with some Chinese colleagues, I've heard the horror stories of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution ™. I've never even considered whether it could happen in America, but a couple of essays from conservative academics have pushed the possibility into my mind.

First, the stage is set by the class/culture war masterpiece from Angelo Cordevilla, "America's Ruling Class and the Perils of Revolution", presenting the "ruling class" as culturally disconnected from the rest of the country (oddly called "the country class", even though for the past century or so the majority of Americans have lived in cities). As is common in these criticisms of the liberal elite, academics take much of the blame for ignoring the culture of the common man, who just isn't going to take it anymore. The second reading, Whoring it in Higher Education from Jason Peters, bemoans the loss of academic integrity in the face of financial incentives. He seems to be saying that everyone involved in higher education, from the students to the professors, has abandoned the nobility of learning in favor of social status and prosperity.

The following excerpt is what reminded me of the Cultural Revolution:
I’d like to see more people with soft hands working harder, professors and students alike. I would allow no one on a liberal arts college campus to eat in the cafeteria who has not participated that week in serious food production.

And I would make more stringent demands on faculty members who enjoy arguing in the faculty dining room the merits of various single-malt scotches. Let them argue, but let them do some real work first. Let them, for example, castrate a ram for every gyro they eat.

Of course, Professor Peters is not suggesting that this solution be forced upon schools from the outside, let alone that children be separated from their parents or that unrepentant ivory tower snobs be executed. I see no reason the believe that anything like the Cultural Revolution is likely, but I wonder if there might be the slightest seed of it somewhere in contemporary political movements like the Tea Party. America is different from China of the 1960's both in the large portion of population that may qualify as "elite" (e.g. college educated) and the mobility among classes. However, if the economy continues as it has, with lawyers, bankers, and computer programmers getting additional raises even as the non-college crowd struggles to make ends meet...then maybe, just maybe.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


The cultural war in liberal bourgeois society is not a bourgeoisie/proletariat Cultural war and never will be.