Letters to the Editor
Dubious Academic Politics
Gerald D. Feldman, December 1992
I was very puzzled by the Editor's Note and the AHA statements that were placed at the beginning of Joan Scott's "The New University: Beyond Political Correctness" (October 1992, p. 14). If you decide to print an article of such length, and one that has already appeared in print twice elsewhere, then you are clearly urging "careful consideration of the points raised" in it. Contrary to your stated policy of disclaiming "responsibility for statements made by the contributors," it is hard to escape the conclusion that the views expressed by Professor Scott are supported by the AHA Council and are meant to serve as a gloss on the AHA policy statements placed before her article.
Whatever the intentions of the editors, the article demonstrates all the totalizing anti-intellectualism of the ideology that Professor Scott claims to deplore in those she attacks. One may or may not agree with the conclusions and prescriptions of the "conservative publicists" who have explored the problem of political correctness on our campuses and criticized some of the self-serving theorizing and obfuscating verbiage that passes for "scholarship" these days. It is disingenuous, however, to deny the existence of these well-documented problems and label those concerned about them as participants in the "ongoing Reagan-Bush revolution." Is Barbara Jordan, who raised the political correctness issue at the last Democratic Convention, a participant in that "revolution"? Opposition to the last two Republican administrations is not tantamount to acceptance of Michel Foucault's view of relationship between knowledge and power, which Joan Scott has appropriated as legitimation for the rewriting of history in the service of her brand of feminism and multiculturalism. It does not mean acceptance of the propositions that history should be propaganda and that the rules of evidence are nothing more than convenient rhetorical devices.
There are very good reasons why politics and war should be focused upon as "major historical events," the chief of them being that they tend to have the greatest consequences for the lives of the "majority of the population." These reasons have absolutely nothing to do with the "interests of white males." Professor Scott may think that academic politics and cultural wars are more important, but most people know better. The academic landscape of Central and Eastern Europe is littered with the wasted efforts and stunted intellects of those who were commanded to rewrite history to satisfy the demands of ideology. Given that record, perhaps Professor Scott should reflect a bit more before marching herself, the rest of us, and our students off on some new road to nowhere.
Gerald D. Feldman
Professor of History
University of California, Berkeley