ILLIBERAL EDUCATION: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus. By Dinesh D'Souza. The Free Press. 319 pages. $19.95.
OF SEVERAL books and articles about the crisis of political correctness on campus that I have read, this is the best. It is the one on which arguments should turn, until a better one comes along.
(Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind" is the deepest, but I don't understand it all and neither do the folks who condemn it. E. D. Hirsch has a point, but his list of what constitutes "cultural literacy" descends to a "Jeopardy" approach to learning. "Illiberal Education" is much like, and a lot better than, Roger Kimball's "Tenured Radicals.")
Dinesh D'Souza goes from campus to campus examining with outraged horror affirmative admissions, the substitution of politically correct black and female authors for dead white classics, the politics of intimidation over reason, racial friction, the deconstruction of values in literature and the tyranny of right-thinking whenever race and gender are at issue (or aren't).
Much of this is familiar. The people who write this stuff all clip the same articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education and New York Times.
Not that all of it is untrue. The quotas of the 1920s through 1950s to keep Jews out of the Ivy League, which good people thought had been abolished forever, have been reinvented to keep Chinese-Americans out of Berkeley.
Dinesh D'Souza writes very reasonably in a field where ad hominem diatribes are the norm. So it is worth saying something about him. He has sinned. An Indian with a Jesuit education in India, a Portuguese family name and Indian first name, he came to Arizona as an exchange high school student and stayed on to go to Dartmouth.
There he edited the Review, a crusading right-wing paper bank-rolled by alumni and ideologues to mock and destroy everything in the faculty and administration that came in after William Buckley left Yale. Under his editorship, it included its share of racist and rancid insult that did not further the cause of great books, classical education, liberal values or anything else of merit.
His first job after college was editing a journal designed to confer the same benefit on someone else's college, Princeton. Then he worked in the Reagan White House and went into a right-wing think tank where he was given the time and reflection to write this book. So he is not a dispassionate investigator or champion of free inquiry who stumbled onto something big, but a right-wing gun for hire. And a very good one.
There is something to most of his arguments, but the debate has been waged so bitterly between left-wingers and right-wingers that the main effect has been to destroy the broad middle ground of true liberal education where rational discourse may transpire.
So much so that an authentic conspiracy theorist would conclude that the Left and Right are in cahoots to shoot up the Center. (Don't laugh; it has happened before.)
Race relations are so lousy on so many campuses that there is much to be troubled about. D'Souza links his topics (all %o ideological, but not necessarily linked) with his conclusion that affirmative action benefiting black students has created white racism. That is his unifying theme.
The people whose oxen he gores will say that this is nonsense; those rabid white students brought their racist baggage with them from the societies whence they came.
But the interesting thing about D'Souza's conclusion is that he does not demonstrate it. He just asserts it. Throws it up for argument, just to see who shoots at it. (They will, they will.)
Administrations and humanities faculties and minority and feminist and gay groups whose politics he charges with stifling free inquiry could react to this book in various ways. One is to ban it. (That would do for his royalties what the ayatollah did for Salman Rushdie.) A better way would be to require its reading.
As a dead white European male poet once said: "Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do ingloriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple: who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter."
(Notice? He said "her," three centuries ago.)
So let the wild rumpus continue. And where else, if not on campus?
Daniel Berger is an editorial writer for The Sun and writes "On the Other Hand" for the page opposite.